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Election Results May Be Delayed in Fairfax

New restrictions on wireless communication in Virginia polling places will significantly slow election returns in Fairfax tonight, the county's board of elections expects.

According to the Fairfax County Electoral Board, staff in the county's precincts must manually tabulate results and phone in returns to the Office of Elections in order to comply with restrictions passed earlier this year by the General Assembly.

The Assembly voted to "prohibit the use of wireless communications on voting equipment while the polls are open on election day," county officials stated in a press release.

"In order to comply with this legislation, the wireless component on the county's 1,200 voting machines was disabled during the pre-election set-up and testing of the equipment. As a result, the precincts do not have the ability to tabulate their machines wirelessly and cannot transmit their returns via modem to the Fairfax County Government Center," according to the county's release.

By Liz Heron  |  November 6, 2007; 6:05 PM ET
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Next: Inside a Fairfax Precinct Tonight


Great! Voting should be tabulated at days end and wireless devices that report progress for or against should be forbidden. I dont like the news influencing the polls. i.e. someone may be reported winning or losing and may cause a person not to vote.

Posted by: Dave | November 6, 2007 8:30 PM | Report abuse

I think the point is that once the polls have closed, it would be fine to transmit the result wirelessly. The State just needs to use appropriate encryption technology. They could always require that a manual tally and confirmation be transmitted to confirm or update the earlier report. Wireless encrypted transmissions would allow for more timely results, once the polls have closed.

Posted by: sb | November 6, 2007 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Long after midnight, the official Virginia state elections site was still showing a couple of major Fairfax County races in which a major-party candidate was tabulated as having received ZERO votes.

I don't trust the equipment we have now. Sure, the machine tabulation is fast -- but without a paper trail, there's no way to know if it's accurate. Paper trails and monitored hand counts are the only way to be sure we aren't being cheated. Relying solely on machine counts is bad enough without opening the system up to wireless spying or tampering.

Posted by: Lisa Small | November 7, 2007 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I am an Election Officer. I am proud to report excellent integrity, transparency, and service in the precints where I have served over the last several years. I'd like to respond to some concerns raised above. Re: monitored hand counts and machine tampering: we are required to manually record the number of people who come through the line at all times. This total number is compared with the electronic total recorded on machines at random intervals throughout the day. (called "taking the count" - a big deal.) The numbers have to match at all times. Any discrepancy would have to be explained to the Board of Elections. If, somehow, someone were able to wirelessly touch a machine and try to add fake "voters", there would be a discrepancy. If there is any doubt at any time about the function of a machine, that machine is taken out of service immediately, a repair call is placed and a tech is sent out ASAP. At the end of the night, when the number of votes are tallied, numbers are checked and re-checked to make sure they are accurate. I don't think anyone breathes easily until that process is complete. As for the site showing zero for a couple of races, I'm going to call the Board of Elections about that one. The numbers from my precinct are fine. Based on what I saw on the website, I'm wondering if the structure of the PDF form might be an issue. The form includes spaces for all office races across all precincts for a supervisory district. I'm not sure that all office races are pertinent for all precincts in a supervisory district, however. If not all office races apply to all precincts, that would account for the blanks. I still want to check it out with the Board of Elections and would encourage anyone with a concern to do the same. Last thing: we are always looking for new Officers of Election. If you have any concerns about the election process and are not already an Election Official, please, please contact the Board of Elections in your county to find out how you can get involved. In Virginia, one is required to attend basic, short (but critical) training and even receives a modest stipend for service on voting day. Thank you for your concern about this vital process.

Posted by: Lila Bonnell | November 7, 2007 6:43 PM | Report abuse

I share the relief that legislators passed legislation that helps secure our election counts by requiring wireless access be turned off during voting. I believe it is exactly what needs to be done. I want to express my thanks to the sponsors and to the legislators who worked to pass this legislation.

I am very happy that our election officers and workers found that it "...worked just as well..." in most places. I am sorry that the headline and beginning of the article seems to suggest to some that Fairfax's experience is representative of some larger statewide result. I am glad the article mentions that Arlington and other counties successfully implemented the new procedures.

Fairfax, a very large county, did have an incident of lost votes in a close county election not too long ago. Just enough votes were missing in the count to be troublesome and disturbing to the candidates and voters there.

While this article reports that Fairfax had some trouble finishing their count again (More votes to count may just take more people/time?), they do do one thing that could help many other VA counties' election workers. They allow their election workers to split their shift with another person. I think this would be an excellent way to help relieve the stress of the long day for the election workers in VA.

I don't think it's fair to ask these folks to do work double shifts and then not expect them to complain. Of course, they're bound to be tired after doing such tedious work.

One year while I was volunteering at the closing procedures in my local precinct, a young male election worker walked out of the room and then we heard him yell out. He had actually walked into a wall because he was so tired. It was after 8pm and he had been working since 6am. I really hate to see people being obligated this way. If the shift hours were more reasonable, I wonder if more people would sign up to train and work for election day help.

Everyone knows about the embarrassingly large number of 'missing' votes in the 2000 Presidential race's FL returns. The large number of votes missing might have made a difference in these races. I beleive that US citizens deserve better. I want our children to see a functioning, trustworthy and meaningful count taken at each election.

Please note an omission in the article. VA State Senator Creigh Deeds was also a sponsor of this wireless ban legislation.
The VA board of elections has still not been able to adequately explain to VA voters the loss of votes in the VA Attorney General race in 2005.

I believe that a voter verified paper record audit trail is really needed as soon as it can be implemented in order for voters to feel trust the vote count.

Posted by: aw | November 7, 2007 11:06 PM | Report abuse

The article I refer to is this WP article (aw)
"Sluggish Reporting of Election Results Blamed on New Wireless
Equipment Ban"

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 7, 2007; Page B09

Posted by: aw | November 8, 2007 10:52 PM | Report abuse

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