Nearly one-third of active voters in Fairfax County — Virginia's most populous jurisdiction and a crucial battleground in the Old Dominion — might not be able to vote or could end up going to the wrong polling place on Election Day, according to the county's Office of Elections.
The confusion may arise because of voters moving and not updating their voter registration information or because their polling locations have changed because of redistricting, according to General Registrar Cameron Quinn. As many as 200,000 voters could be affected.
To put that in perspective, 717,105 voters were registered in the county and 636,505 voters were active as of Aug. 31 — about 14 percent of the statewide total in both cases. President Obama carried the state in 2008 by 234,527 votes and won the county by 109,365 votes. He won Virginia by 7 points four years ago, but the latest Real Clear Politics average gives Mr. Obama a 3.7 percentage point lead over Republican Mitt Romney.
Coupled with a new federal classification requiring the county to provide Spanish-language voting material for English-deficient Hispanic voters, a new voter identification law in the state, and the fact that it's a presidential year, Ms. Quinn said the issue is more than just adjusting for an increased workload. She used the term "cicada voters" to describe people who may not have voted in four years — even sometimes more than a decade — but will pop up sometimes during presidential years.
"In a normal November election, we get somewhere between 30 [percent] and 45 percent of voters. Four years ago, Fairfax turnout was almost 79 percent," she said. "You can intellectually understand that it's at least two times as hard as other elections. It's more like a five-time spike due to the unfamiliar voters who require more assistance."
She thanked Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, for issuing an executive directive to the State Board of Elections requiring it to mail new voter registration cards to every active registered voter in the state when he signed a voter-identification law earlier this year. Ms. Quinn said her office had twice tried to get funding to do an all-county mailing of voter cards, which list polling places, but with tight budgets it had not been possible.
"This is giving something us we really, really wanted [even] without voter ID, and [it] will save many headaches on Election Day," she said.
Under the new law, which took effect July 1, voters must provide identification at the polls or their vote will be counted provisionally. Previously, they could simply sign a sworn affidavit affirming their identity. The law also expands the forms of identification voters can use to prove their identity to include student ID cards, bank statements and utility bills.
Another tool being made available in the county is a mobile app for voters on Election Day.
"One of the nicest things about the mobile app — it'll allow people on Election Day, on their smartphone, to plug in their address or put in the polling place and find a way to get there," she said.
Ms. Quinn said her office works with the county's public affairs staff to develop new press contacts and has noticed an uptick in inquiries when Spanish-language television stations run election stories on, for example, the state's new voter-ID law. Her office has developed its own Spanish-language outreach contact list and is in regular contact as well to help get out messages.
"It's critical that voters realize that, even if they are on the voter rolls, if they have moved since they last voted, they no longer may be able to vote," Ms. Quinn said. "With the recent redistricting, this is even more critical than usual."
Voters who have not received a voter information card in the past two weeks are urged to call the Office of Elections at 703/222-0776 as soon as possible. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 15.
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