Tuesday, March 04, 2008

John Hager and Barnie Day Speak to Election Officials

Last weekend, the Virginia Electoral Board Association (VEBA) held its annual meeting at the Homestead in Hot Springs. The meeting included addresses by Tom Wilkey, the executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, the nationwide professional organization for election officials. There were also break-out sessions on VERIS (the statewide voter registration system), recruiting election officials, "Electoral Board 101" (for new EB members), and an opportunity to exchange ideas with the new secretary of the State Board of Elections, Nancy Rodrigues, who took her post just weeks before last year's November elections.

VEBA's annual meeting also provides an informal opportunity for Electoral Board members from around the state to compare notes with their counterparts, discussing problems and solutions and learning how to do their jobs better by inquiring about other election officials' experience.

The Saturday banquet featured a panel discussion with former Virginia lieutenant governor John Hager (now chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, and a candidate for re-election to that position) and Barnie Day, a former Democratic member of the House of Delegates and author of Notes from the Sausage Factory, a book about the legislative process.

The speakers' assignment was to discuss the question of whether having politically-appointed electoral board members is a case of "the fox guarding the hen house."

By way of background, each county and city in Virginia has an electoral board of three members. Two members come from the party of the current governor, and one member comes from the party of the candidate who came in second in the last gubernatorial election. That means that, since 2002, each electoral board has had two Democrats and one Republican. (The State Board of Elections, or SBE, has a similar make-up.)

Electoral board members are nominated by the chairmen of the local political party committees, and appointed by the Circuit Court judge. Technically, electoral boards are part of the judiciary, but they exercise administrative functions by themselves appointing General Registrars and supervising the activities of local Offices of Voter Registration and Elections.

To tell the truth, Hager and Day did not directly address the question put to them, but together they made some pertinent points about Virginia election law and procedures. They also seemed to agree with each other as much as they disagreed, despite the fact that they come from different political parties.

I had my video camera handy at the banquet and recorded the speeches and the question-and-answer session with the audience, which was moderated by VEBA communications director Robin Lind.

Part I:

In this first segment, VEBA president Maggi Luca (from the Fairfax County Electoral Board) introduces the speakers.

Part II:

John Hager took the microphone in this second segment, beginning with a listing of the various idiosyncrasies in Virginia politics and governance. Hager is a former president of VEBA, and here he tells a hilarious (and true) story about former Senator Chuck Robb, a lovely young lady, and a rendezvous one night at the Hot Springs airport.

Part III:

In this third segment, Hager continues his remarks, and then Barnie Day takes the microphone. Matching Hager shaggy-dog-story for shaggy-dog-story, Day amuses the audience with a memory of a family funeral, Southern-style.

Part IV:

Barnie Day continues his remarks in the fourth segment, emphasizing his thoughts about voter participation and whether voting should be a legal requirement. He offers some interesting trivia: "In the 1932 presidential election, Roosevelt vs. Hoover, there was one county east of the Mississippi that went for Hoover." That county turns out to have been Floyd County, Virginia.

Part V:

This is where the Q&A begins. Barnie Day responds to one question with a funny story about dog food. Hager talks about the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned last year's transportation package and the dangers of writing legislation "hastily." He addresses the apparent increase in voter participation this year and expresses hope that it's not a one-off phenomenon. Both Day and Hager talk about non-partisan redistricting. (They both believe that the redistricting process needs to be changed, but both are skeptical that the General Assembly will change it.)

Part VI:

As the Q&A continues in segment six, Barnie Day brings up the Electoral College and suggests it, too should be changed. Hager agrees with him. (I disagree with both -- though not on camera.)

Part VII:

In this final segment, Hager and Day continue to respond to questions from the audience, and continue a conversation about redistricting. Day suggests that there should be more of a match between state Senate and state House districts. There is a mismatch, he says, because there are 100 House districts and 40 Senate districts. It would be better to decrease the House districts to 80 or increase the Senate to 50, with two House districts contiguous with each Senate district. Because this is such a good idea, he says, "it is almost guaranteed never to happen."

Speaking of election laws and procedures, I will be a guest on "The Schilling Show" tomorrow on WINA-AM from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., talking about voting machine security with David Swanson, who recently had articles in The Hook and C-VILLE casting doubt on the integrity of our electoral system.

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