New D.C. Election Leaders Face Big Stage in September, November Votes
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By Dan Seligson, Electionline.org
July 17, 2008
Fixes in place to address primary woes, but inexperience still has some nervous
This article appeared in the Electionline Weekly and is reported here with permission.
officials around the country have been bracing for record turnout in
the presidential election. In the Nation’s Capital, however, departures
and replacements in the upper echelons of election administration – and
lingering concern over voting troubles during last February’s primary – has activists and residents fearing more problems at the polls.
In May, Alice Miller, executive director of the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) for the District of Columbia for over a decade, took a new position as chief operating officer for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
same month, William O’Field, the board’s spokesman and poll worker
coordinator, trainer and recruiter also announced his retirement from
the division. O’Field had been with the board for more than a decade.
The city’s registrar job is open, advertised since April.
chairman of the BOEE Charles R. Lowery Jr. no longer holds his
position. He has been replaced in the position by Errol R. Arthur, a
newcomer to the board. Lowery continues to serve as a board member.
The District continues a nationwide search to fill the position of registrar of voters, now being held by an acting registrar.
With all of the comings and goings, Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DCWatch, a group that covers D.C. politics and public affairs, said she was bracing for trouble in coming months.
not even looking toward November. We have a September primary and I’m
very concerned about that. I think that the February presidential
primary was not handled well – whether you look at not [having] enough
ballots to the polling sites, not having the right security sleeves,
inadequate staffing, machines breaking down, not having backups… and
that was just a primary,” Brizill said. “I think we’re going to see a
record turnout in both September local and November general.”
would be bad enough if it were just the top spot,” she added. “But it’s
two other critical positions – the registrar and the person responsible
for recruiting and retaining poll workers.”
District Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At large, said that she shared some of those concerns, especially for November.
must tell you I’m a little nervous,” Schwartz said at a July hearing.
“Not only do I see the biggest election in our history, I also see
what’s going on in your shop….The timing is not great.”
appears, however, that the department has started to make a number of
changes to address the problems revealed in February.
at the July hearing, Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, the BOEE’s acting
executive director and former operations manager, said her department
had undertaken an “extensive review of our activities and
procedures…and has been engaged in a comprehensive process of reforming
our procedures to further modify and strengthen our processes.”
changes range from the basic – reordering the alphabet breaks in
registration lists to make lines move more effectively – to the more
complex such as a new rule calling for trisected poll worker shifts on
ballot shortages, perhaps the most pressing issue in the city that
arose last February, has been examined as well, Goldsberry-Adams said.
percentage of paper ballots ordered will be increased,” she said. “Less
emphasis will be placed on the anticipated use of the touch-screen
machines. An analysis of historical trends and registration numbers,
precinct by precinct was conducted to enable us to accurately increase
the initial ballot distribution.”
The District faces some other challenges though. A report released
this month by an advocacy group charged with ensuring Help America Vote
Act compliance with disability access found that nearly 10 percent of
polling places were structurally inaccessible. In one case, wheelchair
lifts were inoperable. In another, a series of sharp turns and narrow
pathways made access difficult, while an elevator necessary to get to a
polling place lacked controls that a person in a wheelchair could reach
and audible floor indicators and Braille characters for voters with
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