Minutes - Summary of Jan. 17 Meeting

Call to Order/Introduction of New Members/Summary of January 3, 2013 Meeting

Chairman Hanley called the second meeting of the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission (“Commission”) to order in Room 232 of the County Government Center at 7:15 p.m. Members in attendance included: Co-Chairman Katherine Hanley and members Chuck Caputo, Cesar del Aguila, Bettie Baca, Alex Blakemore, Keith Damon, Olga Hernandez, Jeremy Epstein, Tania Hossain-Almaraz, William Kreykenbohm, Jay McConville, Jay Myerson, James T. Parmelee, Lee Ann Pender, Ginny Peters, Kelsey Phipps, Susan Platt, Brian Schoeneman, Marcus Simon, Marion Stillson, and Jeffrey Wisoff. Members of the public were in attendance, as was County staff.

Newly appointed members and members who were not in attendance at the first meeting introduced themselves. Chairman Hanley summarized the first meeting of the Commission, which was held on January 3, 2013, for their benefit.

Chairman Hanley noted that when the Board of Supervisors created the Commission, it asked that the Commission be shown the video of the Board’s discussion. After discussion, Chairman Hanley asked staff to put a link to that video onto the Commission webpage so that members could easily access it and view it at their convenience. Chairman Hanley next asked staff to provide information about the Commission webpage. Lisa Connors, Office of Public Affairs, described what is currently on the webpage. The webpage includes an email address for the Commission, and the Commission asked that the Office of Public Affairs publicize on the webpage that the public can submit comments to the Commission through the email address.

The Chairman then turned to the matter of scheduling additional meetings. Following discussion about members’ availability on various dates, the Chairman scheduled meetings for Wednesday, February 13, Thursday, February 21 and 28, and Thursday, March 7 and 14, in addition to the meeting dates already scheduled (January 24 and January 31). Each of those meetings will be in Room 232 beginning at 7:15 p.m., subject to availability of the room on February 13 and March 7. UPDATE - All commission meetings have been confirmed for Conference Room 232 in the Government Center.

Review of Proposed Work Plan

The members reviewed the work plan that Co-Chairmen Hanley and Mendelsohn had prepared. It was suggested that “disability barriers” be added to “language barriers under item I.C, and that “office budget” be moved from item III.E to create a new item V. on the work plan. The members then moved onto a discussion of Items I.A and I.B on the work plan. 2

Items I.A and I.B of Work Plan

Work Plan I.A: The Precinct; Size of the precinct/number of registered voters. The Commission generally agreed that it may be necessary to split a precinct before the law requires it (when the number of voters voting in the precinct in a Presidential election exceeds 4,000). The Commission discussed what attributes or variables, including but not limited to the number of registered voters, the Board of Supervisors should take into account when it decides whether to split a precinct or create a new precinct. Using Franklin Precinct and Carson Precinct as examples, there was discussion about why small precincts may be located next to much larger precincts, and it was observed that the size disparities are often created by the need to align precinct boundaries to the lines for the state House of Delegates, State Senate, or Congressional districts. The members reviewed the spreadsheet prepared by the Office of Elections labeled “Preliminary Projections – November 6, 2012, General and Special Elections,” dated June 30, 2012. That spreadsheet identified the numbers of active registered voters in each precinct and the resources projected to be allocated to each precinct, including the number of voting machines, poll books, and election officers. After discussion, the members agreed that they should obtain more information and return to the topic for additional discussion at a future meeting.

The Commission asked staff to provide the following information on the topic of precinct size:

  • An explanation of why the “Preliminary Projections – November 6, 2012, General and Special Elections” were prepared in June 2012.
  • Whether, when, and to what extent the Electoral Board reviews and updates these projections at a later date closer to the election, and whether that procedure changes depending on the election cycle.
  • How the number of registered voters in a precinct correlates with delays and long lines in the precinct. Is size always a determinant?

Work Plan II.B: The Precinct; Locations of the polling place.

1. Issues of having two precincts in one building. Commission members recounted problems experienced by voters whose polling places were located in the same building as another polling place. In some instances, voters stood in line for hours, only to learn when they reached the check-in table that they were in the wrong polling place. After discussion around the table, the consensus of the Commission was that co-located precincts should be discouraged, but if it is necessary to locate more than one precinct in a building, certain mitigating measures should be taken:

  • Co-located precincts should be adequately staffed to direct voters inside the polling place to the right room. Pages could be especially useful in co-located precincts, but if pages are not available, then a poll worker should be assigned to work outside if possible.
  • Precinct maps must be posted outside each room so that voters can determine which room is their polling place;
  • Signage should be improved to assist voters in finding the correct room; and
  • The County should aggressively advertise how voters can find or confirm their precinct and polling place after they are already inside the building, such as the “mobile app” that allows voters to connect to the State Board of Elections website from their mobile devices.

The Commission asked staff to provide additional information on the topic of co-located precincts:

  • Any data the Office of Elections may have to show where co-location of precincts went well, where it resulted in problems, and what factors made the difference.

Additionally, because Sully District has the greatest number of co-located precincts, Mr. Parmelee agreed to gather information about what co-located precincts in Sully District operated smoothly and which had problems, and what factors made the difference.

2. Availability of sufficient parking. The Commission then turned to parking issues at polling places. After discussion, the Commission generally agreed that:

  • The County and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) should pursue whether parent-teacher conferences can be scheduled on days other than Election Day. FCPS representative Ms. Pender said that she is gathering information from teachers to determine the feasibility of this change.
  • The number of parking spaces at FCPS polling places is often insufficient. Ms. Pender offered to work with the Electoral Board to increase the number of spaces that FCPS sets aside at polling places in schools that are specifically for voters.

The Commission also concluded that it needs more information to fully consider where and how parking problems might be alleviated:

  • The Commission asked staff to determine whether information is available to show which polling places had parking problems.
  • Commission members will try to gather information about parking problems at polling places.

3.  Availability of space for lines to form inside the building. Commission members discussed problems experienced by voters who have to queue outside the polling place building, especially in inclement weather. After discussion about space issues, the Commission reached two tentative recommendations:

  • When scouting for polling place locations, the County should look for places where long lines can form inside.
  • In existing polling places in schools, staff should ask FCPS to ensure that the particular room used is in such a place that long lines can form inside.

Commission members asked for the following information about space:

  • Ms. Pender will investigate who makes the final decision on what room in a school is used as the polling place – FCPS or the Electoral Board?

4.  ADA requirements. The Commission generally agreed that voters with disabilities should be educated about their right to vote absentee. In publicizing opportunities to vote absentee, the County should emphasize the benefits of absentee voting for voters who have difficulties with mobility and/or standing for long periods of time.

Commission members asked staff for the following information about ADA requirements:

  • How many people voted curbside in Fairfax County in the November 2012 General Election?
  • Are the election officers required to give disabled voters a choice of voting equipment and why does the County typically use DRE machines for curbside voting?
  • Were disabled voters who requested curbside voting told to come back and vote later?

5.  Adequately sized room to accommodate process and provide enough privacy. After discussion about room size, the Commission reached consensus on the following principles:

  • Rooms used as polling places need to be big enough to allow the election officers to efficiently operate the polling place and maintain sufficient privacy for the voters, although the Commission cannot define what is sufficient size because it will vary depending on a number of factors, including the existing configuration of the room.
  • As a general rule, larger rooms facilitate line movement.
  • Some rooms used as polling places in November 2012 are too small.
  • Voters need sufficient space for privacy booths and the need for privacy is of even greater importance for disabled voters. Many of them need to converse with election officers, and they must be able to converse privately.
  • The Scouting Report form should be modified to ensure that room size is taken into consideration when the Office of Elections is evaluating locations for new polling places.

Commission members asked staff for the following information:

  • Does the Office of Elections staff use any standards for room size now?

6.  Efficient operational flow. After discussion, the Commission asked staff for the following additional information:

  • What happens when election officers don’t show up on Election Day? How is the shortage addressed?
  • How is the configuration of a polling place determined and who makes that determination?

7.  Secure storage for voting machines. The Commission members discussed the fact that voting machines must be stored in a secure place in the polling place, with electricity available, the night before an election and on election night.

Items from Commission Members

After discussion was concluded on Items I.A and I.B of the work plan, the Chairman went around the room and asked each member if he or she wished to raise any other issues.

Ms. Hernandez asked to get information on whether there is a technology problem with the electronic poll books.

Ms. Platt asked for information about:

  • Provisional ballot procedures;
  • The number of voting machines the County has; how that compares to the number of voting machines the County had in 2000; and when the County last purchased voting machines;
  • Data on how many voters voted on paper vs. how many voted on DREs in the November 2012 General Election;
  • How many electronic poll books the County has;
  • The frequency of electronic poll books breaking down on Election Day;
  • ADA requirements;
  • The planning process for allocating voting machines among precincts;
  • How the voting machines used in the November 2012 General Election differed from those used in the November 2008 General Election; and
  • The cost of optical scan machines (purchase and maintenance).

She also asked if County staff could give a demonstration of the electronic poll book for the Commission.

Mr. Blakemore asked for data about:

  • The number of provisional ballots cast, by precinct;
  • Absentee ballots (such as the numbers that the Office of Elections receives and when and how staff is allocated to process them); and
  • Satellite voting.

Mr. Epstein asked whether the Office of Elections has information about how many voters used the video or audio capabilities on DRE voting machines, noting that use of these functions ties up the machine for a significant length of time.

Staff agreed to determine whether the information requested exists and is available, and to provide it to the Commission if possible.

Thereafter, the meeting adjourned.

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