Election Day Details in Harrisonburg

DebSF -- October 31st, 2008

Joe and I attended the training for officers of the election last night in the new city council chambers; we got briefed on some details that might be of general interest. 

There’s been much discussion about the wearing of items in support of candidates at the polls; this involves the interpretation of section 24.2-604 of the Code of Virginia (Prohibited Activities at the Polls) by the State Board of Election. They’ve been debating this for awhile, and it’s an issue that sparks strong feelings (and emails, phone calls and threats to the SBE, etc). The local electoral board was instructed that the SBE interpretation must be enforced, and here’s what will happen state-wide:

a) A person who is wearing campaign materials will be asked to remove or cover up the materials when they first enter the polls by the election official working as the greeter. This will occur when the person first enters the interior location, i.e., when first they step into the gym at each of the schools.

b) If they do not, when they reach the pollbook officers (the point where they will be asked to show ID and will receive their ballot), they will be asked again to remove or cover up the materials.

c) If they do not, the pollbook offers will pause the line to complete an Incident Report. This involves filling out a form that includes the voters name and the details if the incident, which might simply read “voter did not remove campaign button”. The voter receives a ballot and votes as usual.

d) The Incident forms are processed with the election materials at the end of the day, and will be forwarded to the Commonwealth’s attorney. What happens after then is anyone’s guess.

Stone Spring has 6,702 registered voters this time around. The state legal limit for a precinct size is 5,000. SS passed the limit after the June deadline, which would have required the city to split the precinct in two. So for just this election, SS will be one of the largest single precincts in Virginia. Waterman got close with 4,714, Keister has 4,376, Simms has 3,836 and Spotswood has 1,099 for a grand total of 20,727 registered voters in the city.

The city has enough ballots for every registered voter in the city, with some to spare. The ballot is 2-sided and is 8 ½ by 14, which is 3 inches longer than usual.

The electoral board has made arrangements with each school/polling location to open up enough corridor space to accommodate long lines inside the buildings. It’s supposed to be a pretty, sunny, mild day, so we may not need the inside space until evening.

If you’re in line by 7PM, you get to vote. We have a clock we’ll use at each polling place provided by the registrar to decide when 7PM arrives. The clocks get a signal from WWVB, a station that radio-controlled clocks throughout North America use to synchronize themselves. If the line is still outside at that point, we’ll shoo people inside, close the door and the polls and keep going till the last person votes. During “normal” elections, only a handful of people vote after 7, so we usually close up shop and run the numbers pretty quickly. If tons of people are in line, people may still be voting at 7:30 or even 8, so results won’t come out till later than usual in the evening.

28 Responses to “Election Day Details in Harrisonburg”

  1. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Thanks for the information. Since the part of state law that seems to apply prohibits a person “within such distance [40 ft. from the polls] to give, tender, or exhibit any ballot, ticket, or other campaign material to any person or to solicit or in any manner attempt to influence any person in casting his vote”, and since that is being applied to clothing and paraphernalia, I have a question. Was any advice given on what other clothing or displays might be considered as trying to “influence any person in casting his vote”, such as a t-shirt with a peace symbol on it, or an anti-abortion message, or other such forms of political speech? Or does it have to specifically endorse or oppose a specific candidate? What about non-specific political party paraphernalia?

  2. Deb SF says:

    The examples we were given were all very candidate-specific and were all presidential level, such as telling someone to remove an Obama sticker or to turn a McCain t-shirt inside our/cover it up. We were encouraged to use common sense, and not provoke confrontations. I suspect that it’s going to be busy enough that no one from either side is going to be too concerned about anything but the most explicit pro-candidate stuff.

  3. Draegn88 says:

    Deb, how does this apply to the people that are always hanging around on the sidewalks and parking lots?

  4. Deb SF says:

    Re: “how does this apply to the people that are always hanging around on the sidewalks and parking lots?”

    It doesn’t affect anyone who is further than 40 feet from the polls. Campaign volunteers who hand out literature, sample ballots, etc., are free to continue to do so. When they go into the polls to vote, though, the buttons and stickers should be removed, the jacket needs to go over the tshirt, etc.

  5. Renee says:

    Thanks for the detailed info. That’s really interesting to hear about Stone Spring having so many registered voters – whoah!

  6. Thanh says:

    What time do the polls open at on Tuesday?

  7. Deb SF says:


  8. JGFitzgerald says:

    Polls open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    Come at 6:01 to avoid the lines.

    In line at 7, you can vote.

  9. Laura says:

    See you all at 6AM (Yawn).

  10. Renee says:

    I’ll probably be going mid-day and planning to spend the afternoon in line. My voting place is Keister and I’ll try to take some pics. We should have a “report” from each polling place with a photo and how long the line was when the reporter arrived. I really hope there won’t be any voting machine issues to report. I saw on the evening news tonight that VA has a very high number of voters per machine – about 1 machine for every 750 people.

    That means each machine could handle approximately 1 voter per minute per machine (since the polls are open for 13 hours, which is 780 minutes). That also means that unless the Stone Spring location has more than 9 machines (6700/750), they have fewer machines per person than the state average, which is already worse than other states.

    Here’s hoping that everything goes smoothly!

  11. Renee says:

    In a quick search, other states seem to range from 200-400 voters per machine.

  12. Renee says:

    Not sure how much truth there is to this, but this article from Fox DC news says MD and VA are doing away with electronic voting machines:


    I’ve heard several places the optical scan (scan-tron) type machines don’t have the inaccuracy problems that the touch-screen ones do, so I’m going to try to use one of those if there’s a choice.

    Also, the NAACP hearing about Virginia’s preparedness (which I believe included questions about how many machines per capita there were in minority areas vs white areas in VA) has been cancelled. I heard the NAACP is not planning to follow through with it after having viewed updated plans, so I guess the problem was fixed:


    I am surprised VA hasn’t extended the polling hours, especially after hearing that FL has extended theirs by 4 hours per day, even for early voting!

  13. JGFitzgerald says:


    The DNR had an AP version of the story on MD/VA abandoning touchscreens.

    I’m working Keister. See you there.

  14. finnegan says:

    @ Renee

    I’ve been saying this for years, but I’ll say it again: Don’t vote by machine. Fill out a ballot. I’m sure Joe and Deb and most election officials can reassure us that the machines are just as good as the paper ballots, but I remain respectfully skeptical.

    In the event that this election is closer than pollsters say, and there’s a recount in Virginia, won’t you wish you had filled out a ballot? I know it’s ironic for a “paperless” blogger to encourage voters to use paper, and I know that the machine that scans the ballots is also a computer, but I guess I’m the kind of guy that likes a tangible record of my transactions. When I make a deposit at the bank, I never leave without a receipt. Why wouldn’t I want a record of my vote?

  15. Renee says:

    finnegan, yeah that’s just how I feel. I an several other software developers I know have more conidence in the paper ballot that gets scanned than in the machines. I guess it’s because we know how easy it would be to alter the results, especially when the code is “closed”. They had a guy on the news the other day that showed that as a repairman, he could sneakily replace one chip in the back of the machine, and could alter the votes by 10%. The modification was not traceable. Scary!

  16. Draegn88 says:

    Renee, I have always understood that it was illegal to take photographs at/in election places. Perhaps Deb or Joe could comment on this?

  17. Deb SF says:

    From section 24.2-604 of the Code of VA:

    Election officers can permit reps of the media to visit, film and photograph inside the polling place for a reasonable and limited period of time. The media can’t film/photograph people who ask not to be on camera, can’t take pics in a way that shows whom a voter votes for, or film/photograph the voter list or any other voter identification info or forms. Interviews with people generally need to occur outside the polling location. But generally, voters are not supposed to take photos inside the polls.

    For every election I’ve worked, students from local journalism classes have been permitted to enter the polls briefly, take shots, get permission from voters, and briefly interview election officials if it doesn’t interfere with the process of voting. The DNR is usually there, as is a reporter (often Jeff Mellot) who interviews people outside the polls.

  18. Josh says:

    I thought the electronic machines printed a receipt of some sort that can be used in the case of a recount… Is an electronic vote a one-shot deal?

  19. Renee says:

    Josh, some machines do and some just keep an electronic backup in memory. Some only print summaries, and there is no vote-by-vote record like you’d have with the paper ballots. So, you may be able to print out how many total votes were recorded for each candidate, but many touch screen voting machines don’t have a “receipt” for each voter. So, if the machine has a glitch that’s tallying up the votes wrong, the total will be wrong, and there will be no individual votes to “count”.

    Draegn88 and DebSF, I’m hoping to just photograph long lines, which I assume will extend outside the buildings at the polling places – do I need any special permission to snap a shot of people waiting in line? I assumed I didn’t since I see so many videos on the news of people waiting outside. What if the line is inside the building, but not inside the actual voting area (like in the halls at Keister but not in the cafeteria/gym)? Is that considered to be “inside the polling place”?

  20. Renee says:

    Here are descriptions of some of the machines used in Northern VA, which I assume are similar to what we use here. When I voted in the primary, there was an RFID card to slide into the touch screen that I assume connected the vote number with the number in the registration log, so maybe ours are the kind that list individual votes that they can cross-check for accuracy if there’s a recount. I’m not sure how that works.


  21. Renee says:

    Interesting that several of the machines in that article keep “ballot images” which can be used in a recount. I wonder if ours do that.

    I still will use the optical scan-tron paper ballot for this presidential election. I just feel better that there’s a physical piece of paper, especially now hearing that VA and MD are getting rid of their e-voting systems, it shows that the state doesn’t have confidence in them either.

  22. Deb SF says:

    No permission needed for outside pics at all. There should be tons of stuff to photograph, and it’s supposed to be a gorgeous day.

  23. Renee says:

    Great, thanks!

  24. Del says:

    I followed this very closely in 2006 and my understanding at the time was the recount procedure for DREs (which I believe recorded the majority of the votes in Virginia in that election) essentially consisted only of checking that the printout of totals from the machine matched what had been submitted. The most that could happen would be that an identical print out would be run again based on the original calculations. The losing candidate had no access to any individual vote records in the DREs in a recount if any even existed. Since this is what happened with the post election canvassing anyway, this was given as the main reason Allen didn’t bother with a recount. The situation may be different now or my memory could be foggy.

  25. Renee says:

    NAACP lawsuit is back on:

    “RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A day before voters head to polls in
    battleground Virginia, the NAACP will go to federal court to demand more voting machines in minority polling places.

    A hearing in a Richmond federal court has been set for Monday
    afternoon. The organization renewed its motion Friday to
    redistribute voting machines, extend voting hours and make paper ballots available in some precincts.

    The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
    sued last week alleging the state was unprepared for what’s
    expected to be a huge turnout in Tuesday’s presidential election.

    The group had withdrawn the request Thursday after mediation
    with state officials. But the NAACP now says it’s concluded that
    problems still exist.”

  26. Jason Garber says:

    I’m a software developer too and I’ve always chosen to vote on paper rather than use DRE voting machines, not only because of how vulnerable they are to fraud and glitches, but as a protest against how they were introduced—they should have had more transparency, like printed reciepts. I’m glad they’re not buying any new ones in VA, but I fear it may be awhile until they wear out.

    Any chance hburgnews will post a sample ballot again this year? It was really helpful last time around.

  27. Renee says:

    In case comes to this post via a link – the sample ballot is posted here: http://hburgnews.com/2008/11/03/city-ballot/

    Question – are either party’s pamphlet tables planning to hand out food/drinks? I think it would look really good for someone to have snack baggies and little bottles of water for people waiting hours in line.

  28. momof2 says:

    Can anyone post a link with a brief thumbnail-type description of all the positions we’ll be voting for here in Hbg, with a brief description of each candidate? Does such a thing exist? Every time I vote, I am surprised by a few that I have absolutely no idea about, and I’d like to be informed when I go to vote today. Thanks!

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