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Votes

Electing for a Change

For years, Loudoun County has made election night a community event, with residents gathering first at a local newspapers' offices, then at the Government Center to see the poll numbers as they rolled in.

Staff from the Loudoun County Electoral Board, General Registrar's Office and volunteers from county departments would work together to update the results as they became available. Originally, handwriting numbers on a long sheet of paper spread out across the room, then as technology took hold, by inputting numbers into computerized spreadsheets.

The continued growth of the county and ever-changing technology may usher in the end of an election night tradition, however.

"With the size of the county, it might be worth a sit-down with them [the Electoral Board] and make the support much more formal," Kirby Bowers, county administrator said.

LAST TUESDAY'S election illustrated the need for a more coordinated effort and more staff, said Dianna Johnson Price, secretary of the Electoral Board. Preliminary poll numbers did not begin to get posted to the state Board of Elections site until after 1:30 a.m., and Judy Brown, General Registrar, was inputting numbers to send to the state until 5 a.m., Price said.

Each election, the local Electoral Board solicits residents to serve as election officials at the polls. While they are volunteers, each person is paid $100 for working election day, precinct chiefs receive $200, and each person also is paid for training.

Price said she had estimated about 550 election officials would be needed for Tuesday's election, which is based on three officials for every 2,500 voters. What Price got was about 50 people who signed on to go through the training. However, not all of them showed up for their assignments election day.

The county had five new precincts this year, bring the total to 63 for 159,378 registered voters. The turnout was 33.8 percent, or 53,886 voters, said Brown.

"We had one precinct that had a total of three officials for the whole day," Price said. "That's two people to check people in and one person to monitor the floor, help voters and work the machines."

In addition to staffing concerns, the Electoral Board had to deal with ballots that had multiple write-in candidates, including members from one family for different offices, two types of voting machines — optical scanners and touch screens — and 16 different ballot types.

TERRIE LAYCOCK, the acting director of the Office of Transportation, has been assisting the Electoral Board during election time for 28 years. She began helping input election night numbers when she was the assistant county administrator.

"It use to be a huge sheet of paper and as returns came in, we marked up this sheet," Laycock said. "Everyone loved it because you could see everything."

This year, results were entered into one of three spreadsheets that were projected onto a screen. Each spreadsheet had two people inserting numbers, while Laycock roamed from the phone bank to where the volunteers were using the computers. The method, Laycock said, meant residents waiting in the board room did not have access to all the numbers at once.

It also meant the work had to be duplicated in order to get the figures to the state.

Laycock said precinct captains would call in the totals, which were then hand written onto a piece of paper. Those numbers were then added to the appropriate spreadsheet, which was sent to Brown at the Registrar's Office. Brown, working alone, then had to input the number she received into the state system.

"We had four people taking calls from the polls," Laycock said. "The others that had been waiting to call in their numbers began calling Judy at the Registrar's Office directly."

The calls to Brown meant she was taken away from her task of sending the numbers to the state because she had to then contact the Electoral Board with the numbers to input into the spreadsheets.

"I wouldn't say it went wrong," Laycock said. "It's just an enormous undertaking. … It's a little antiquated … I don't think it is as useful and enjoyable [as it use to be] to folks who came out to monitor the results."

PRICE SAID SHE would like to see the method and technology upgraded and hopes the county will help with the process. She said she requested the county's assistance this year in creating a program that would post the results on the county's Web site, but it never materialized. For people not at the Government Center, results were available on the state Board of Elections Web site in the early morning hours. Bowers, however, said a request for assistance never came to him.

"Our staff pitches in, but it is not our purview," Bowers said. "IF we were responsible for logistical problems, we'll certainly correct them."

Bowers said both the Registrar's Office and Electoral Board are state agencies, however, the county provides each with office space and support. The county has no part in staffing.