[Image courtesy of potomaclocal.com]
Stafford County, VA found itself in the headlines last week when a series of events resulted in more than 17,000 voters receiving incorrect voter information cards in August.
The controversy is similar to Peoria, IL's "52 pickup" problem that I described a few weeks ago - namely, that district lines have changed in Virginia due to redistricting and voters need to be notified of the impact of the changes. Unlike Peoria, though, Stafford sent new cards that turned out to be incorrect.
A key complication in Stafford was the County Electoral Board's June 28 decision to replace the County Registrar. Under Virginia law, partisan control of the Board changed as a consequence of partisan control of the governorship changing in 2009. The new Board decided to replace Registrar Sharon Persinger with new Registrar Greg Riddlemoser.
That set off an unfortunate sequence. Persinger left immediately on June 28 upon being replaced even though she had two days left on her term. Riddlemoser, who has no experience as a Registrar, did not start until July 1. In between, on June 29, the U.S. Department of Justice approved Virginia's redistricting plan. Two weeks later, the two full-time staff members who had worked for Persinger also left.
Consequently, updates to voter information as a result of redistricting were not made and the incorrect voter cards went out in August.
Setting aside the (admittedly very big) issue of whether election administration should be subject to partisan appointment rules, the Stafford case highlights a key weakness in the nation's system of recruiting and training election administrators. Quite simply, the system doesn't guarantee that new officials have basic training in election administration, nor does it have any mechanism for recording and passing on the experiences of existing administrators. Such a system is destined to create the same kind of mistakes that arose in Stafford - or worse.
The worst part is that Stafford's citizens are double losers in this process - once as voters who will get conflicting election information, and once as taxpayers who will ultimately foot the bill to rectify the mistake.
Quite simply, whether or not we are committed as a nation to partisan control of election administration, we need to be committed to a system that ensures - regardless of partisan control - that 1) the women and men who work in elections are well-trained and knowledgeable in the basics of elections before they get the job, 2) they have access to continued training while they do their jobs, and 3) they are committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise after they leave their jobs.
Anything less is just asking for more headlines like those last week in Stafford.