Counted On: Rule Changes, High Demand, Virus Press Election Officials

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Counted On: Rule Changes, High Demand, Virus Press Election Officials
Last-minute changes to Virginia's elections process along with a high demand for absentee ballots have put pressure on elections officials.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT

"I don’t think that anybody recognizes what is put into an election. It is not just a two day a year job," Dianna Moorman told us on a recent trip to James City County, Virginia. 

Moorman is the James City County Director of Elections. Her office oversees elections for the county’s 61,000 registered voters.

"In the elections world, we have so many things that are thrown at us very last minute. And nobody stops to take into consideration that we actually are real people and we have lives that happen outside of our office. And there is no backup plan for when a registrar goes down," she said.

"It takes months of preparation, and I think people don't realize how much we are guided by Virginia election law. The section of code is over five hundred pages now and we have to do everything and we can't let a single ball drop through the entire process," she added.

Last July, the Virginia Legislature expanded early voting to all registered voters. In September, they made several more updates to the election process. Requests for mail-in ballots are already double the total from 2016. The last-minute changes and surge in voting have overwhelmed elections officials across Virginia.

Moorman welcomed new election officers to a three-hour training on a recent Wednesday. "The theme of this slideshow is kind of new, new, new. We had 17 pages of code that went into effect on July 1st of 2020. We also had an emergency session that significantly changed how we manage our operation. And that went into effect in September." 

"I call it organized chaos," she said in an interview, "especially with what the legislature is put upon us for this new election. Even though we are putting in 100-hour weeks currently for any presidential election — it's typical — you throw in a pandemic such as this one and it kind of adds in an extra wrinkle, masks are required for all election officers." 

James City County’s Elections Office has three full-time and one part-time staff. "We are the 19th largest locality in the state of Virginia. We have so many that are to personal offices. If one person goes down, that election ceases to run properly," Moorman told Newsy.

Season Gallagher is one of the few staff. She sat in her office sorting returned ballots. "These are ballots that people have returned to us. So they’ve sent them in, so we’ll process them. And if they choose not to put it in a drop box and come in through the mail, it's at least a few hundred a day. We're doing pretty well. People are really excited about it."

Moorman told us "These processes are not like Amazon. It's not going to happen in one day. We have to request the ballot from localities. They have to physically mail them to us. Then we have to enter them into the system."

Sheila Lohr helps review each absentee ballot that has been sent out. "Every day we double check the ballots to make sure nobody is left out," Lohr said. "And if a ballot didn't go up today, it goes out tomorrow," added a co-worker.

Moorman explained, "We have to make sure that the voter wrote out her name correctly. We have to make sure that they even signed their name correctly. We have to make sure that their address is correct. We have to make sure that the apartment matches. We have to make sure that it's dated. All of these things take time and money."

Moorman pulled out a few returned mailers advertising absentee voting sent out by third-parties. They have handwritten messages in sharpie and pen claiming that mail-in voting will lead to fraud or socialism. "These are some of the wonderful notes that we've received from voters. There's one. This is the next one that's just fantastic. And these are polite compared to some of the ones that have been sent out across the state. So I keep them as a reminder of things that work and things that don't," Moorman told Newsy with a grin.

"In the elections world, we have so many things that are thrown at us very last minute. And nobody stops to take into consideration that we actually are real people and we have lives that happen outside of our office. And there is no backup plan for when a registrar goes down."

For full election coverage visit Election 2020.