By Renee Andrews
As the electoral board of the City of Falls Church, charged with the administration of elections and the operation of the general registrar’s office in the City, we are pleased with the turnout of voters in last Tuesday’s election, which increased to 4,979, or 54.68%, after the acceptance of provisional votes. We thank the voters of Falls Church for coming out and making their way through an 11-contest ballot. We also thank the 43 officers of election, many of whom worked over 15 hours that day, for their diligence in conducting an election in which there seemed to be a steady stream of voters that lasted all day.
We are pleased that the News-Press considered the high voter turnout worthy of front-page mention in the November 7 issue. In checking with the preliminary results from the State Board of Elections, we have learned that our 54.68% turnout is again the highest of all cities and one of the highest of all localities in the state, with statewide turnout at 33.9%. In addition, having now checked records back to 1990, we can agree with the editor’s observation that Marybeth Connolly likely did set a record for votes for City Council. In fact, all five candidates received more votes than the most popular candidates in the previous 22 years. We are delighted to know that more voters are making their voices heard in local elections.
However, we are concerned that the statement that “The record-setting nature of this election was unable to be fully confirmed only due to murky record keeping at City Hall” may lead the citizens of Falls Church to reach an incorrect conclusion about the proficiency of our recordkeeping. Please allow us to provide an explanation that may allay any concerns you may have, as well as any concerns held by our fellow citizens.
All the records in the general registrar’s office are clear and accessible. The News-Press entered our office shortly after noon on November 6, possibly the second-busiest day of the year for an election office. The electoral board had just finished its all-morning canvass meeting to ensure that the results turned in by the officers of election on Tuesday night were accurate. The general registrar and his staff were entering data into the state system so that statewide results could be tabulated, completing required post-election reports, preparing payroll data for the 43 officers of election, filing away all the paperwork from the previous day, as well as beginning to enter voter registration data for all those who tried to register after the books had closed on October 15 and update registration data based on forms completed by voters at the polling places. Because of the pressing priorities of ensuring the timeliness and accuracy of the records from our most recent election, we were unable to respond to your request as quickly as we would have liked. We know that you, too, have deadlines, and that you were not able to delay any longer.
The newspaper asked how far back our voter turnout records went, and we replied that we had all those back to 1971 (42 years’ worth) on the computer, and the prior ones could be obtained from archives. Such data is available to any registered Virginia voter under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Act provides that we must provide a response within five business days of a request, either providing the information or advising the requestor how long it will take and how much it will cost (staff time, copying, etc.) to compile the information. Our office immediately printed the records from the five most recent local elections, but said that was all we could do at the moment, since priority had to be given to tasks immediately related to the current election. The following morning we printed all the local election results back to 1990. Records prior to 1990 will need to be obtained through the City’s IT department, since they are preserved with software no longer used in our office.
Although our office is under time pressure to complete many tasks, we are sensitive to the newspaper’s deadline and its desire to report newsworthy stories to our citizens. This situation can hardly be described as “murky record keeping,” and is much more accurately described as “an effort by a small office to provide data in as timely a fashion as possible.” We hope the editor will agree with this assessment and that you and your readers do not lack confidence in our recordkeeping. We work very hard to ensure that all of the tasks assigned by law to the electoral board and the general registrar are completed with the attention and skill they deserve. This includes recordkeeping.