Santa’s not the only one who’d better be making a list and checking it twice in coming months. Arlington’s Republican and Democratic leadership should be doing the same, too, county election officials say.
Those officials are asking the two main parties to submit, in January, lists of county residents who would be acceptable to them for service as election officers in 2023.
“We want the list from both parties – that is the list we will work off of,” said Kim Phillip, who chairs the Electoral Board and was speaking at its Sept. 15 meeting.
State election law encourages – with the proviso “if practicable” – that election officers who work at polling places be recruited as evenly as possible from Republicans and Democrats. In Arlington, however, where the GOP is a distinct minority, it’s been hard to find enough applicants who self-identify as Republicans.
Instructions handed down in recent years from the Virginia Department of Elections advised that Electoral Boards were not allowed to continue appointing applicants to represent a specific political party based solely on the applicants’ preference, delegating to Republican and Democratic committees the necessity of providing lists of acceptable names at least 10 days before Feb. 1 each year.
“The onus is on the parties,” said Electoral Board vice chair Matt Weinstein.
Aiming to have lists from both parties before the February appointment of election officers may be a triumph of hope over experience. “The Arlington Electoral Board has not received a list of election officers in January from either party since I started here in 2008,” county Registrar Gretchen Reinemeyer told the Sun Gazette.
Discussion of the matter, which has now spread over two Electoral Board meetings, was precipitated by the Arlington GOP Election Integrity Committee, which of late has taken an intense interest in Electoral Board activities.
The Sept. 15 discussion came during an unusually contentious meeting – not among the three board members (Democrats Phillip and Weinstein and Republican secretary Scott McGeary) but largely between the advocacy group and election-office staff.
Final authority on appointments rests with the Electoral Board. Republicans may complain that the result is an imbalance in party strength among election officers, but “if individuals aren’t there, individuals aren’t there,” Reinemeyer said at the meeting.
Getting the lists from the political parties in hand will help make the process run more smoothly, McGeary said.
“The more we can do on the front end,” the better, he said.
The elections office has been working with the Republicans, Reinemeyer said, noting that the party sent a list of 13 prospective election officers to officials over the summer, and all were sent applications.
“This summer, they also sent a list of previously appointed officers they would be willing to have represent the GOP, based on a list of workers that they received last fall,” she said.
The county’s dominant Democrats largely have been uninvolved with the vetting process – although, with Republicans now getting involved, Democrats may, too.
Under state law, neither political party can veto appointments of election officers. They can ask that an individual not be tapped to represent their party, but those individuals can still be designated as “unaffiliated” and continue to work the polls.
Election officers are paid by the county government, and despite the partisan designations are required to stay neutral while working on Election Day.
All election officers are required to take an oath of impartiality, which they rigorously observe, Reinemeyer said.
“We are fortunate to have a cadre of trained, experienced officers,” she said. “Our democracy relies on 550 of our neighbors signing up to serve their community for 16 hours on a Tuesday each November.”
Election officers are different from partisan pollwatchers, who are designated by political parties to observe proceedings in polling places, and from those who hand out campaign materials supporting various parties or candidates to voters coming to cast their ballots.
The election of Glenn Youngkin as governor means that the local three-member electoral boards across the commonwealth will flip from a majority of Democrats to a majority of Republicans. In Arlington, that switch will occur at the beginning of 2023, when Weinstein’s three-year term expires; he will be succeeded by an appointee of the Circuit Court based on recommendations made by the Arlington County Republican Committee.