Election workers ensure integrity during long voting season
For a deeper look at Virginia's election administration, watch VPM News Focal Point at 8:00 p.m. Thursday.
Virginia voters have 45 days of early voting. That’s nearly the longest timeframe to cast ballots in the country.
As election season has stretched from September to November, election administrators are struggling to keep up with the demands. Since 2016, about half of the state’s 133 registrars have left or are leaving their posts.
Since 2020, election workers have faced scrutiny over election results after former President Donald Trump made unproven claims of fraud. Multiple Virginia election administrators told VPM News Focal Point that some voters still believe those claims and have questions about the integrity of election results.
“All we can do is try and explain to them how the system works, how the equipment works, what it can do, what it can’t do. We show them as much as we can,” said Charles City County Assistant General Registrar Robert Stephens. “And I think just going through the process, they see it, and they see that it’s a secure system.”
Many election workers have said they put politics aside when they are processing votes.
“To be honest with you, when I walk into the door here at Chesterfield County, I leave all of my political views outside,” said Chesterfield County Absentee Manager Tangela Kersey. “My main concern is to process the return ballots and make sure that the integrity of the election is upheld.”
Kersey pointed to multiple layers of security to ensure an accurate vote count. Election officials print out new pollbooks each day with the most up-to-date voter information.
“The pollbook ensures that the voters who voted the previous day have received their credit, so that way no one can come in and vote twice,” Kersey said. She also pointed to on-demand ballot printing and the state’s identity verification system as ways workers ensure election integrity.
Observers from both Democratic and Republican parties are welcome to watch the process.
“They see everything we’re doing from eight o’clock in the morning until five o’clock in the afternoon,” Stephens said. “Without exception, when they leave, they go, ‘This is really well run. We have faith in what you folks are doing.’”
Stephens pointed to media consumption as one reason voters question the integrity of the election results.
“I think a lot of people listen to and read a lot of things that are exaggerated. And they come in and they have questions as to whether we’re doing the things that they’ve heard about supposedly being done,” explained Stephens.
James City County Director of Elections and General Registrar Dianna Moorman said the strain of administering elections is taking its toll.
“People are worn down, and people are tired. I think that with the amount of social media and the presence of social media, I think that’s kind of escalated beliefs and theories.” Moorman said, adding she’s heard misinformation from both Republicans and Democrats.
She’s concerned about the toll misinformation is taking on election administrators. Moorman has held her position since 2016. In that time, she estimated that more than 50 of the state’s 133 registrars have left their positions, and a dozen more are expected to leave after the midterms.
Moorman, who also serves as the first vice president of the Registrar Association of Virginia, wonders what kind of impact those departures are having.
“That’s a lot of institutional knowledge that we have lost through resigning, just retiring ... various reasons,” she said.
Despite the strain on election administrators, Moorman said voters should still have faith in the system.
“We ran three successful elections [during] the pandemic,” she said. “And we did it proudly. So, if we can do that, through a pandemic, we are capable of pretty much anything.”
In October, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares created an election integrity unit. He said its goal is to work more efficiently and collaboratively with the election community. He also said he wants every Virginian to have confidence in our democracy. Critics of the unit argue its existence gives undue credence to claims of voter fraud, which is rare in the U.S.