A Republican group seeking to have Arlington election officials reduce the number of 24-hour voting dropboxes in the county got something of a cold shoulder at the July 14 Electoral Board meeting, but potentially could find a warmer reception next year when the GOP has a majority on the three-member body.
Representatives of a Republican voter-integrity effort asked that the number of dropboxes be reduced from nine to as few as three, citing both cost and ballot-integrity issues.
“If you have three boxes rather than nine, you reduce the problem,” said Rich Samp, who made the presentation.
Guidance from state election officials requires Virginia localities to offer at least one ballot dropbox to voters in the 45-day period leading up to elections. Arlington goes well beyond that minimum, and would be well above it even if the box numbers were trimmed.
Arlington has the largest number of dropboxes on a per-capita basis in Virginia, county registrar Gretchen Reinemeyer acknowledged. Fairfax County, which has four times Arlington’s population, makes due with a single dropbox at the county’s government center.
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.
Reinemeyer said that the Central Library and Westover boxes had proved their worth over time.
“To take those two away gives me some pause,” she said.
But were election officials to restrict dropboxes to the government headquarters, Central Library and Westover, “what happens in South Arlington?” asked Electoral Board chair Kim Phillip. Currently, four of the nine dropboxes are located there, at Arlington Mill, Aurora Hills, Shirlington and the Walter Reed Community Center.
Electoral Board vice chair Matt Weinstein, like Phillip a Democratic member, channeled his inner Al Eisenberg, a former County Board member famous for asking “What problem are we trying to solve?” Weinstein said there was no proof there had been any fraud involving Arlington dropboxes, and the cost of a few thousand dollars to maintain them was “a minor drop in the bucket.”
“This is a non-issue,” Weinstein said, calling the proposal to cut the dropbox total “totally misguided.”
But Weinstein won’t have a formal say after Dec. 31; the election of Glenn Youngkin as governor last year is trickling down to commonwealth’s 130-ish electoral boards. In each, the next Democrat whose term expires – in Arlington, Weinstein – will be replaced by a Republican. Which means that come January, it will be two Republicans (current board secretary Scott McGeary and the future appointee) to one Democrat (Phillip).
Technically, it’s the responsibility of the registrar to determine the number of dropboxes, Reinemeyer told the Sun Gazette, 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, and there’s no guarantee it will remain the case in Arlington, depending on how things transpire.
At the July 14 meeting, McGeary asked a number of questions on the matter of trimming lockbox locations, but did not tip his hand as to whether he might be supportive of it. Any change, if one occurs at all, is unlikely until 2023, owing to the current Democratic majority on the Electoral Board.
Samp turned Weinstein’s “What problem are we trying to solve?” question around, wondering why some saw a need for so many dropboxes in low-turnout elections. “The numbers suggest the demand is not there any more,” he said, while acknowledging that “conceivably one might return to a larger number” in high-turnout elections, such as for president in 2024.
Any decision on the number of dropboxes for a pending election would have to be made at least 60 days in advance of the election date.