Remarks: Electoral Board Report and Response to Recommendations of Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission
Testimony of Brian W. Schoeneman, Esq., Secretary, Fairfax County
Before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
May 13, 2014
REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Thank you, Madam Chairman and thanks to the entire Board for allowing the Electoral Board the opportunity to speak with you today. My name is Brian Schoeneman and I am the Secretary of the Board. I am joined today by my colleague Seth Stark, the Chairman.
In November of 2012, the Board of Supervisors created the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission to address public concerns surrounding the administration of the November 2012 presidential election. Having been appointed to that Commission by Supervisor Herrity, I worked with the rest of my fellow Commissioners on a report that was released in March of 2013. That report made a total of 57 recommendations to the Fairfax County Electoral Board, as it was then constituted. Upon receipt of that report, the Electoral Board and General Registrar Cameron Quinn began the process of responding to the Commission’s report. Chairman Stark made it one of his top priorities, and I joined him in pushing for the completion of this report following my appointment to the Board.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, it has taken over a year to provide you with our response. Since March of 2013, the Board has administered two sets of Town elections, one gubernatorial election which saw one of the closest races in Virginia history, an historic recount, and a special election in the 33rd Senate District. Needless to say, we’ve been busy. But throughout that time, I want to assure you, we have been working to address the concerns raised by the Bipartisan Commission and I believe we’ve made considerable progress.
As you know, we adopted a formal response to the Bipartisan Commission report last week, on May 7. In it we specifically addressed all of their recommendations, and I am pleased to say that we agree and either have implemented, or are in the process of implanting, the vast majority of their recommendations. I ask that our formal report be submitted for the record, and I will briefly discuss a number of the most key recommendations and our responses.
One of the key findings of the Bipartisan Commission was clear need to modernize voting equipment in the County. The Commission recommended each precinct be equipped with electronic pollbooks and the urged the Board to explore purchasing new voting equipment. The Electoral Board strongly agreed with these recommendations. Thanks to additional funding provided by this Board, we were able to purchase additional electronic poll books, ensuring that every precinct in Fairfax was well-equipped with EPBs in the November gubernatorial election.
In addition, this Board also approved $6 million in carry-over funds to begin the purchase of a new, fully integrated voting system for Fairfax County. I am very pleased to report that we are in the final stages of that process. Beginning last year, the Electoral Board, working with Cathy Muse in the County’s Department of Purchasing and Supply Management, began a months-long procurement process to select new voting equipment for the County. This process included multiple presentations by potential vendors to the Electoral Board and stakeholders throughout Fairfax, as well as a mock election that allowed hundreds of citizens the opportunity to test the various vendors’ equipment and provide us feedback. The Board, along with representatives from the Office of Elections, the General Registrar and the County’s Department of Information Technology formed a Selection Advisory Committee to review bids and make a final recommendation. The Selection Committee narrowed the potential vendors down to three earlier this year. In late April, the Committee eliminated two of the bids and made our formal recommendation. At this time, the County Attorney’s office is in negotiations with the final vendor and we hope to be able to make a formal announcement as to who that vendor is in the near future. Our goal is to deploy the new system in the field for this fall’s Federal Elections, giving Fairfax County voters a full two years to grow accustomed to the new equipment before 2016. We are still on track to meet that goal.
The Bipartisan Commission also recommended that we extend satellite voting hours for absentee-in-person voting. The Board implemented that recommendation beginning in November 2013 and has committed to a four year pilot program of extended satellite voting hours for general elections to determine if the added weekends provide a substantial benefit in reducing lines and increasing voter turnout.
The Commission also strongly recommended that the Board take a number of actions to ensure we are recruiting sufficient Election Officers to staff the polls on our many Election Days. Those recommendations included pay increases and a renewed focus internally on recruitment and training. The Electoral Board strongly agreed with these recommendations and moved forward with the first pay increase for Election Officers since 1998 last August. Pay increased from $100 to $175 a day for Election Officers, while Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs received an additional $50 in pay. In addition, the Office of Elections requested and received funding from the Board of Supervisors for a full-time Election Officer recruitment position, which we hope to fill in the next few months. With the extra pay and focus on recruitment, we hope to be able to ensure a sufficient number of election officers moving forward.
Overall, the Electoral Board is pleased with the progress that has been made since 2012. Despite some well publicized issues during the November 2013 General Election, overall voter complaints about the process were down drastically from 2012. Some of that is clearly due to the lower turnout in a gubernatorial year, but the recommendations of the Bipartisan Commission and our efforts to implement those recommendations have also played a factor as well.
The Electoral Board remains committed to ensuring fair, efficient and transparent elections in Fairfax County and we would be remiss if we did not thank the Board of Supervisors for your unflagging support. We look forward to working with you to ensure that all future elections are as fair, fast and error free as we can make them, and Chairman Stark and I would be happy to entertain any questions you may have. Thank you.