VIDEO: Petersen Bill Aims to Improve Poll Wait Time
At town hall in Vienna on Saturday, residents push for early voting, more online options.
Though it's January, the long wait times at Fairfax County polls in November's election are still fresh in many voters' minds.
When Sen. Chap Petersen asked the more than 100 residents at a town hall meeting Saturday in Vienna who among them stood for hours in hopes of casting a ballot, hands flew into the air — and calls to improve the process came with them.
One way Petersen is hoping to prevent such long wait times, which plagued polling stations across the state in the 2012 General Election, is SB739, which would require there be at least one voting device for each 500 registered voters in a precinct, instead of the current 750 voter standard.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova has already called for a review of voting efficiency at the county level: In December, the board appointed a Fairfax County Election Commission, charging them with reviewing the county’s election system and developing recommendations for improvement.
Petersen's effort would tackle the issue at the state level, and in theory, at least process more quickly the people who come through polling stations.
But residents Saturday said the number of machines available wasn't necessarily the only issue: the reliability of the machines was even worse, one man said.
"Thirty percent of those machines were out at a time," he told Petersen. "That's a heck of a lot."
Petersen said the State Board of Elections needs to do a better job regulating the quality of service voting machines provide.
"If there's a vendors whose equipment is malfunctioning on a consistent basis, we need to get rid of it," he said.
George Creed, who has manned a polling station in Vienna for several years, said part of the problem is a particular voting location's inability to troubleshoot the machines on its own: Each time a machine goes down, they have to call into Fairfax County's election headquarters, he said.
In a place where Internet is such a part of everyday life, resident Ken Foley suggested it should play a bigger role in election day — either through allowing more people to request ballots online, or, allowing them to vote that way.
Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), who hosted the town hall with Petersen, said online voting becomes a federal question much more quickly than a state one, because of what it might mean to provide the service to some states and not others.
Residents also suggested early voting in Virginia — without needing to show cause — might attract more voters and ease wait times at the polls.
Petersen said he's open to most anything that would encourage more people to cast ballots, but hesitated on some of the consequences of a system that would allow residents to vote so far in advance of an election.
"I do believe in people coming to the school house or coming to the church or coming to the community center to cast ballots. I’d hate to lose that," Petersen said. "I do believe we need to integrate the Internet in terms of requesting ballots. In terms of casting ballots, I do think there needs to be some sort of gathering."
Patch will run videos and updates about other issues – including Medicaid, women’s health issues, the Northern Virginia Training Center, voting rights and gun control and school safety – over the next few days. Check back for links to those stories.
For video recaps of the legislators' statements on voting, click the media player to the right of this article.