In its efforts to maintain all current 24-hour voting dropboxes sprinkled across the community, the Arlington County Democratic Committee may be going down, but it won’t be going down without a fight.
Party leaders on Nov. 2 said that, once the Nov. 8 election was over, they planned a “call to action” in support of maintaining the nine dropboxes that have been in use across the county during recent years.
“We do not like the idea of reducing the number,” Democratic chair Steve Baker said during the brief preview before moving on to election items at the committee’s monthly meeting.
A Republican group seeking to have Arlington election officials reduce the number of ballot dropboxes in the county garnered something of a cold shoulder from election officials over the past six months, but potentially could find a warmer reception next year when the GOP has a majority on the three-member body.
The Arlington GOP Election Integrity Committee has pressed the Arlington Electoral Board and registrar Gretchen Reinemeyer since spring to reduce the number of dropboxes to as few as three countywide, which would still be triple the minimum required under state law.
The secure boxes are designed to provide voters a way to deposit early-voting ballots securely without mailing them or casting them in person.
The GOP group says that cutting the number will reduce both costs and election-integrity concerns, assertions that have pushback from the two Demcorats on the three-member Electoral Board.
Over the summer, when the two sides tussled at an Electoral Board meeting – usually a sedate affair – board vice chairman Matthew Weinstein, a Democrat, said the Republican group couldn’t make a case that change was necessary.
“This is a non-issue,” Weinstein said then, calling the proposal to cut the dropbox total “totally misguided.”
Republicans, however, shot back that it should be a no-brainer to offer a smaller number of dropboxes during elections where turnout is lower than presidential-election years. Both sides seem to infer the other had motives that, if not necessarily nefarious, were not entirely pure.
Come Jan. 1, Weinstein will not have a say in the matter, as his post will be turned over to a Republican owing to the election of Glenn Youngkin as governor in 2021. State law requires local electoral boards to have two members of the governor’s party, one from the opposite party, and Weinstein’s seat was the next Democratic one set for expiration.
The 2023 Electoral Board lineup will include Democrat Kim Phillip, Republican Scott McGeary and a third member appointed by the Circuit Court from recommendations made by the Arlington County Republican Committee.
That list is expected to be forwarded to Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. shortly, with an appointment announced in December.
Arlington appears to have the largest number of dropboxes on a per-capita basis in Virginia. Fairfax County, which has four times Arlington’s population and 15 times its geographical area, makes due with a single 24-hour-a-day dropbox at the county’s government center, although it does provide dropbox service at other locations during the hours they are open for in-person early voting.
Just over 1,000 Arlington voters – approximately 4 percent of those casting ballots – used dropboxes in the June 21 Democratic congressional primary. Boxes at Central Library and the county government center were the most frequently accessed, followed by one in Westover.
Technically, it’s the responsibility of the registrar to determine the number of dropboxes, although guidance from the state level suggests the registrar should “closely consult” with the three Electoral Board members. By law, Electoral Board members hire and can fire registrars if there are policy disagreements, although in Arlington over the past half-century registrars have not seen their employment impacted by changes in the political composition of the board.
In general, Arlington Electoral Board members have worked in general harmony across the political divide. But that’s not always the case in other parts of the commonwealth.
Any change to the number of dropboxes would have to be made at least 60 days in advance any future election, which in Arlington probably would be the June 2023 Democratic primary unless a surprise special election is necessitated.