Politics2020 Election


Counted On: Behind The Scenes With A County Electoral Board

Newsy follows the James City County, Virginia elections office as they oversee record early voting and prepare for election day.
Posted at 10:01 AM, Oct 21, 2020

On October 13, the last day Virginians could register to vote, a cut fiber optic cable crashed the Virginia government online communications system. 

"This is the deadline for voter registration for the 2020 presidential election. And our entire database is down our entire email shared system that we communicate throughout the entire state - that's down," James City County Director of Elections Dianna Moorman told Newsy.

"I started out as a volunteer, and I liked that there was such a black and white guidelines. I know that I can stand behind something and say with confidence that this is what is happening and this is what our guidelines are and there is no variance that no longer is the case. I keep saying everything is clear as mud now."

"So we have an October board meeting and they oversee the elections process. They are huge voter advocates, which I appreciate," she said ahead of the monthly meeting where she will give the board an overview of the state of early voting.

"We all know that the one thing that unites us is we want the job done right. We've got two Democrats and we've got one Republican," said Vice Chairman Perry DePue. "But daggonit, there are a lot of times that the independent person watching the meeting would not be able to tell what political parties we represent because we're here to represent the people of the county."

Moorman reported to the board that the state's total number of votes counted to date were off by around 4,000 votes. But she said she wasn't worried because they have a backup system in place. 

"Since I have been on the board, every year becomes more complicated, every year becomes more demanding. Every year becomes more frankly more expensive and more time consuming," Chairman Tom Gee told Newsy. "This is probably the most challenging."

This year, one of the main challenges for Moorman and her staff is complying with the emergency procedures related to the pandemic. 

"My ideal world is to have the election completely packed up, ready to go. One month out from the election. And we would have had that have we not had all this pandemic and emergency legislation come around," she said.

Both Gee and DePue spoke about the tension between wanting to make voting as accessible as possible and the logistics of pulling off a safe and fair election.

"A lot of what we do is dependent upon what the legislature puts in this book," said Gee holding up the state elections law book. "Many of the things that have made it more accessible have in fact created more work. We really need more people. We need more time. We need more space."

Moorman did bring up some security concerns as well. "We are having one issue. We have a gentleman with a bullhorn. He is extremely abrasive. And he was yelling at people as they were getting out of their cars. Virginia election law says that you can have a loudspeaker within 300 feet of a polling place on an election day. I called the police and said he's got to move. He needs to get that 300 feet away from the building."

"It gets down to definitions and semantics," she told the board. "And that's what I am reaching out to our attorneys for. I need to make sure that we have our guidance in place so that when I do call the police again, hopefully I don't have to, but I can say, 'Hey, this is the section of code.'"

At the end of the day, the James City County Electoral Board and Registrar's Office are in agreement. As Gee put it, "Our objective is fair and safe, the election for everybody. Now, does it make more work? Yeah, it does. Does it take more time? Yes, it does. Is it worth it? Well, I'm not going to say it isn't, because everybody really ought to have that opportunity to vote."