The 2nd Richest County in the Country “Can’t” Find Enough Qualified Poll Workers

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has completed its preliminary report about how pathetic our elections are (though it is not as critical as that). I’ll have more to say about the report, but I got hung up on this passage:

In line with the decentralized nature of the US political system, general elections are administered at the state level and there is no federal election management body with oversight responsibilities. Administrative authority is vested in the respective state secretary or state election board. However, the greater part of election administration is typically delegated to county or lower-level election officials, 6 resulting in a wide variety of electoral practices across the country. While some election officials are appointed, others are elected, which raises possible conflicts of interest. Women and minorities are well represented at all levels of election administration. Overall, the election administration performed their duties in a professional and transparent manner and enjoyed the trust of the majority of stakeholders.

While training of polling staff was extensive, a number of counties experienced problems identifying a sufficient number of experienced poll workers. In some counties, this led to a reduced number of polling stations or less poll workers. 7

7 For example, in Jackson county in Kansas, Leon and Duval counties in Florida, and Fairfax county in Virginia.

Fairfax, VA claims it could not find enough qualified poll workers.

Fairfax county is, of course, the second richest county in the country, with one of the highest levels of education. Out of this county, our government finds people capable of the most amazing feats of analysis, engineering, and leadership to run our war machine. But it can’t find enough people to run its poll machines?

Though maybe this is the reason why: with over 57% of the vote, Obama beat Mitt by almost 87,000 votes just in same-day voting in the county, even in spite of long lines in Fairfax. Obama beat Mitt statewide by less than that: 81,707.

Or perhaps this is the reason why: the Vice Chair of Fairfax’s Board of Elections is Hans von Spakovsky, the architect of GOP efforts to suppress the vote.

And so it is that one of the most affluent, best educated counties on earth claims to be unable to find people capable of running polling machines.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. Eric Hodgdon says:

    Keyword is Qualified.
    Qualified leaves out ability.
    Qualified ignores past performance.
    Qualified is the modern nonsense used by Human Resource Departments..

    Ability, and past performance are what Personnel Departments could discern without much effort.

    Human Resources is fundamentally un-human and inhumane and further degrades Flesh and Blood into a thing or chattel.

  2. Nell says:

    In Virginia, locality Boards of Elections have three members, with the majority the same party as the current governor (the members are appointed by the local party committees). So the Fairfax elections were run by Hans von Spakovsky (who should be in jail) and another Republican.

    The local BoE’s have the final say-so on polling locations, number of booths, which machines are used, and they oversee the recruitment and training of election-day workers. In theory, the DoJ acts as a check because it has to approve locations, precinct lines, etc. as part of enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. But that approval comes early on, and there’s a good bit of room for maneuver if “emergencies” and “unique local circumstances” crop up.

    The Registrar of voters and his/her staff carry out the recruitment and training of poll workers, but no matter how effective they are or how hard they work they can’t go beyond what the BoE authorizes. Fairfax County’s BoE *should* be getting a hard look from the Justice Department, with individual interviews of the Registrar’s office staff. But, I predict, there will be little investigation because Dems survived this time.

  3. Nell says:

    Just looked at the Fairfax Co. BoE site you link, and consider it highly unusual and suspicious that the last electoral board meeting before the election was cancelled. Here in a small mostly rural county, the BoE meeting is once a month (the statewide minimum). I’m assuming the big urban counties may meet more often, with suitable notice, but don’t know what the practice is. But that Friday meeting was the last chance for citizens and party activists to get their concerns about the process on the record.

    Virginia doesn’t have early voting as such. Casting an in-person absentee ballot (at the Registrar’s office or central polling location) is the equivalent, but you can only get an absentee ballot by meeting one of 14 requirements (65 or older, commute longer than an hour and a half, medical appointment [in which case you need a confirming document from the doctor], etc.).

  4. Mauimom says:

    I was looking at this from the “can’t find” and “qualified” POV, minus the shenanigans.

    I’ve been a poll worker before [not the kind where you’re outside for a few hours, but where you have to set up the voting machines, process people all day, secure and verify the results, and break down the set up]. It’s a crappy, crappy job. I think I got paid $85 for one day’s “work,” and we weren’t allowed to leave the premises.

    In rich Fairfax County [right across the river from where I was working], who but the most insanely “patriotic” is going to do this “civic” shit? They’d all rather go shopping instead.

  5. Nell says:

    @Mauimom: No question being an official elections worker is a very long day, and undercompensated. Both parties in my area have tried to get the state and local BoE to split shifts to encourage more people to do the job (creating a bigger pool of people with experience), but they resist on grounds that it would mean recruiting and training more people — a real chicken and egg issue.

    But in Fairfax County there was not a problem finding enough people to do the job in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2009 — Presidential, Congressional, and Va. state office elections held under Democratic governors. Until evidence emerges to prove me wrong, I blame slow-walking by Hans von Spakovsky and his Republican colleague on the Fairfax Co. BoE.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @Nell: Well, hopefully it will get some attention. I suspect some people will look closely at this explanation for the lines. Shit, Fairfax must have the longest lines for any rich district in the country and THAT can’t be a mistake.

    And thanks for explaining how the board works. I didn’t take the time to do so, but had a sense it was something like that.

    Locally it’s just one official who makes the decision (though we were never under the VRA). And they make lots of decisions that amount to vote suppression.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @Nell: Did you see more coverage on the lines in Fairfax? I know there were also long lines in Prince Williams County, but aside from that it seemed like Fairfax had the longest lines.

  8. Eric Hodgdon says:

    I’m surprised elections are not being fully privatized or outsourced.

    In the 1960s 5 bucks was the election day wage in some California counties.

    Might I suggest a universal voting system be strongly considered, along with ending registration.

    What common and near universal ID is there?

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