The Spectacle Blog

A Report From the Non-Election in Virginia

By on 3.6.12 | 3:13PM

From a friend in Alexandria, VA:

I voted this morning, and I felt like I was in the Virginia Soviet Socialist Republic.

For starters, not a single yard sign anywhere. Not in people's yards. Not on Route 7 between Old Town and Falls Church, one of the busiest corridors in the entire region. Not on Quaker Lane. Not even at the polling place. I understand saving money, but I thought that there would be at least one sign at the precinct exhorting me to "Believe in America" with Comrade Mitt. No. For that matter, there was only one small "Vote Here" sign on the street, instead of the usual series of them.

In addition to the usual signs required by the Virginia Election Code, they also posted a sign on the door to the polling place informing voters that the law prohibits write-ins in primary elections (yes, actively forbids, even in areas that still use paper ballots). The sign said that votes for anyone other than official candidates would not be counted and that ballots should not be defaced. (Only Romney and Paul are on the ballot.)

We did not receive sample ballots in the mail (a first, and I am clearly a Republican and have been for 15 years in the same precinct), but there was a sample ballot posted on the door to the polling place. Oddly, it was printed in yellow despite containing a notice that it is a violation of the Election Code to copy or distribute sample ballots in white or yellow paper. Who made the decision not to send out sample ballots? The State Board of Elections? The party? It would be entirely possible to forget there was a primary today. Who does that help?

Entering the polling place, there is always a poll worker asking if voters know how to use the electronic machines (you have to turn a wheel and then click your selections). I asked if it was possible to cast a blank ballot. She was a bit surprised by the question but then helpfully and honestly responded yes and showed me how to do it. Given the sign on the door and the prohibition against defacing ballots, however, it was unclear how a blank ballot would be counted.

I then went to the registration table. In every other election -- and in 15 years I have only missed one primary for a state legislative race -- the poll worker asks the voter to state their full legal name and then their address, upon which one presents ID. After the ID is verified, the poll worker calls out a number which reflects the total number of voters certified to that point. The voter is then given a "registration verified" card and sent to another table where a machine prints out the (private) code that the voter has to enter to begin the process with the machine.

Today, no. Rather than having the book fully open, the poll worker -- and I did not recognize a single one of them -- had it half closed and did not call out the number. So unless the poll watchers are watching carefully, there is no way to know the total number of ballots cast. (The Paulista-looking poll watcher appeared to be reading a Danielle Steel novel and was clearly not paying attention.) Needless to say, I assume that turnout was exceptionally low. But in the past, I've still known the number of ballots cast to that point. Again, why the secrecy? The electronic machines are not infallible (I recall an incident from a few elections ago where the machine went haywire, delaying results into the night. That wasn't fraud, just malfunction, but still.)

All in all, a very surreal and somewhat disturbing, soulless experience. I even had to ask for my "I voted" sticker.

There is a complicated history in Virginia regarding the signature requirements for ballot access including the Dems getting to submit joint petitions in 2008. So it's not quite as simple as candidates not just getting enough signatures. The law against write-ins needs to be repealed, now. The rules on ballot access need to be reformed, now. The parties have too much control of the elections (see link for a good summary of what happened last year). 

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