Campaign volunteers make last-minute pitches to voters outside Silverbrook Elementary School in Fairfax Station.
Photo by Tim Peterson
By 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, the veteran team of election officials at Silverbrook Elementary School in Fairfax Station had successfully processed 1,000 of its 3,000 registered voters.
"It’s more than we expected for an off-season election," said six-year returning Chief Election Officer Krystyna Kolesar. "These are very hard to predict. You typically get a very low turnout, but there’s been a lot more visibility with the governor race." A helping hand in that regard may also have been the scores of parent-teacher conferences taking place throughout the day.
Kolesar, a Fairfax Station resident who normally spends her days working as a civilian for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, said there was a surge as expected shortly after the polls opened at 6 a.m., then a steady trickle of voters throughout the day. With the school’s suburban location in mind, she expected a similar surge around rush hour.
Surge or trickle, Kolesar’s responsibility is clear: "Take care of the voters," she said, "protect their right to vote, make sure they have access to voting and set an environment that’s not intimidating -- that’s welcoming, so they ask any questions as they come in and get processed."
Though the seasoned official has seen ice storms, earthquakes and heat waves threaten the voting process, no such natural disasters were in the forecast Tuesday. The biggest tests were simply endurance and accuracy. Volunteers had to report at 4:45 a.m. and most would not be released until all the ballots -- completed, empty and spoiled -- are processed: potentially an hour and a half after the polls close.
"It comes down to patience," said Kolesar. "You find over the course of time, people are good. If they’re under stress and you get a little hiccup, there are very systematic ways of working through it."
The experienced patience helped Kolesar lead her staff in what she refers to as fulfilling a "civic responsibility" for the county. "This is my neighborhood, these are my neighbors. It’s nice to do something for the county. I like just helping, being a part of something bigger. You can’t complain about things if you don’t try and participate and make it better."