Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Talking About Voting Improvements

Monday night, the Charlottesville City Council approved a request from the Office of Voter Registration and Elections to appropriate funds for the purchase of new voting equipment to supplement the Hart Intercivic eSlate machines that we have been using in Charlottesville since May 2002.

As noted on the WINA-AM website:

Charlottesville will spend $48,000 to get additional voting machines in advance of the November 4th election. The City Council authorized the purchase Monday night. Registrar Sheri Iachetta says voters in each precinct should have an opportunity to use the new devices. That includes smaller Charlottesville precincts, such as Clark (pictured) (Listen to Sheri Iachetta) As of the start of this week, Charlottesville had 26,085 adults on its voter rolls. Iachetta says her staff has been registering 400 new people each week, and she expects to see that continue through October 6th. That's the deadline for people who are not registered to sign up.
The new machines, known as the Hart eScan, use digital scanning technology to read paper ballots. Virginia law prohibits Charlottesville (or any other locality in the Commonwealth) from acquiring DRE (direct recording electronic) devices, even if currently-owned machines are damaged or destroyed. While we previously would have been able to borrow, rent, or purchase new eSlate units to meet the needs of voters, the General Assembly and Governor Kaine decided we should not have that option.

Last Friday, I appeared on "The Schilling Show" on WINA to discuss this topic. WINA summarized the conversation between me and host Rob Schilling like this:
Thanks to a steady stream of summer registrations, Charlottesville has roughly 26,000 adults on its voter rolls. The deadline to register for the fall election will be October 6th, and the chairman of the Charlottesville Electoral Board anticipates a flurry of activity before that date. Rick Sincere (pictured) says that could have a special impact on the Recreation precinct, which is the city's largest. (Listen to Rick Sincere) He also notes Charlottesville voters will be given a choice of voting machines for the November 4th election. (Listen to Rick Sincere) Sincere was a recent guest on the Schilling Show, which airs at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday on Newsradio 1070 WINA.
For those who want more than a summary and a couple of soundbites, here is the complete interview on video (in three segments).

In the first segment, Rob Schilling introduces the program and mentions the case of Gennady Denisenko, a political refugee from the Soviet Union who has lived in Charlottesville for almost two decades but who is now being deported back to Russia. Rob urges his listeners to write to Virginia Senators Jim Webb and John Warner, and to Congressman Virgil Goode, to ask them to put pressure on immigration authorities to reverse the deportation decision.

Also in this segment, I talk about the rapid increase in voter registration in Charlottesville -- a rise of 8.5 percent in the month of August alone -- and what this might mean for the configuration of our voting precincts after the November election. (Virginia law requires that any precinct in which 4,000 or more people vote in a general election must be split into smaller slices. We anticipate that Recreation Precinct will reach that threshold this year.)

In the second segment, I talk about the new machines we will introduce this November, and how "as an election geek" I am intrigued by the unique opportunity to do a real-world experiment to determine whether voters prefer to vote electronically, on the eSlate, or on paper, using the eScan digital scanner. (Voters will have a choice that is the equivalent of "paper or plastic?")

In the third, shortest, and final segment, I reply to a listener's question about whether having the choice of voting methods might cause delays in the process and result in long lines. I assure him that, with the use of electronic pollbooks and with intense training of our well-qualified poll workers, we expect things to move smoothly on Election Day.

At the end of the interview, host Rob Schilling invited me to come back between now and Election Day, because -- as we at the Electoral Board have already realized -- voters will need to be reminded to expect changes at their polling places and, as the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.

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