Record Election Turnout in Arlington

by ARLnow.com November 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm 8,278 93 Comments

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington County set a new voting record yesterday.

Nearly 118,000 people voted in Tuesday’s general election, the largest numerical turnout on record in Arlington. Percentage-wise, however, the turnout came up just shy of a previous record.

About 83 percent of active registered voters cast a ballot yesterday, according to unofficial figures cited by Arlington County Registrar of Voter Linda Lindberg, compared to the record 85 percent active voter turnout during the presidential contest between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992. Just over 83,000 ballots were cast in Arlington during that record-setting election; the county’s population has grown considerably since.

The wait times to vote at some polling stations yesterday exceeded two hours. Lindberg noted that “the last voter didn’t finish voting until about 9 p.m.,” since those in line before the 7:00 p.m. Virginia poll closing time are still allowed to vote. As of this morning, absentee ballots were still being counted.

In a brief interview last night with ARLnow.com, Arlington County Electoral Board Chairman Charlene Bickford suggested that the county may need to bolster its election operation for the next presidential race, four years from now.

“We’re definitely going to have to look at the number of [voting] machines we have,” she said.

Photo courtesy @thePhilipJones

  • Glebe Roader

    That’s a great turnout. I wonder how many people who are eligible to vote haven’t registered…

  • sarlington

    So basically you’re saying that there were more people, but the same number of polling places? No wonder the waits were excruciatingly long. No one should have to wait for over 2 hours to vote and I’m sure many people got discouraged, had other things to or antsy children and were not able to stand in line for that long.

  • John Fontain

    Here are most of the details (including by precinct):


    The real buring question is how many votes did the various ARLnow candidates for school board (novasteve, Major Pup, kitten) get. Writes-ins for school board were about 2.5% of total votes, so I’m thinking we did pretty good given the short notice and lack of organization.

  • JohnofCharleston

    Has anyone explained why, if the County had 220 voting machines per registered voter, there were only 4 machines for the 2,000+ voters in the Crystal Plaza precinct?

    • sarlington

      It was equally as redic at Walter Reed Community Center. No love for Sarlington, the bastard child of Narlington.

      • FrenchyB

        Yep, at least 2,092 actual voters at Walter Reed (based on Presidential votes cast), and five machines. That’s over 400 actual voters per machine, almost double the amount of voters per machine as the county claimed.

        • JohnofCharleston

          And remember, the county claimed it was 220 per REGISTERED voter. If you assume your precinct had an average turnout (85%), then you have somewhere around 2461 registered voters in your precinct. That means the county has 11 voting machines for the people in your precinct. Sure, maybe they kept 10% in reserve, but where were the other five machines?

          • Josh S

            I wonder if she was counting paper voting booths in that tally?

            So it wasn’t one MACHINE per 220 voters, it was one VOTING STATION per.

            That’s my guess.

        • Greg

          Frenchy, where can I find that information?

    • John Fontain

      If they had 220 machines per voter, there shouldn’t be any line at all.

      • SomeGuy

        Thousands of voting machines just hoping to get voted on.

      • We Wuz Robbed

        Buy Winvote stock !!

      • SHLady

        Same here. 1551 voters in Shirlington, four machines.

    • Greg

      2,543 votes cast in my district and there were 5 maybe 6 machines. Everywhere you look it seems the number of votes per machine was double what they say.

  • RightWingWhacko

    Sarlington. Let me understand this: Nobody should have to wait for over two hours. Please tell me what the max wait should be? How many people in line should be allowed? How many machines are required for each polling place?
    I understand, it is all about you. Just trying to see if there’s some specifics that can be learned as well.

    • sarlington

      More voting machines, more check in volunteers. I know people who waited for 3+ hours. That’s absurd and I’m sure turned people away and not everyone voted who wanted to. I’d say an hour, max at peak time is acceptable. I went at 3pm and still waited for 2 hours and was told the line had been that long throughout the entire day. When I lived in Narlington, I never waited for more than 10 minutes at off-peak times… just sayin.

      • Oz

        sarlington: are you an Election Officer? I’m guessing no, since you waited in line to vote. And that’s exactly the problem – Election Officers are volunteers and it’s a job not many people want to take on. You have to go to a training class prior to election day. You have to be at the polling place at 5 AM. You can’t leave the polling place until the votes for your precinct are tallied and posted (remember that line in the story about the last voter at 9 PM? ALL the officials were there until probably 11 PM.) If you have a FT job, you have to take a day off at your own expense. It’s easy to say there should be more volunteers, but perhaps actually volunteering would be better.

    • brendan

      Is there any truth to the tweet yesterday from Arlington’s official twitter acct @ArlingtonVA, that they have the maximum number of machines allowed by law? sounds fishy.

      • JohnofCharleston

        No, they retraced that, and later said explicitly there was no legal maximum. But as someone pointed out on the other thread, their claim of a machine per 220 registered voters is very suspect. Based on the number of voters, and an 85% turnout, that would mean they had 12 machines per precinct. I don’t think anyone believes that.

        • hermitcrab

          As I understand it, the actual issue is that Virginia municipalities are not allowed to buy new electronic voting machines (see e.g., http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/va-politics/paper-ballots-return-to-alexandria/2012/06/08/gJQA0NXdOV_story.html). Sure, lots of people can vote on paper at once, but most people prefer the machines. At our precinct people were opting to wait in line for another half hour or so (after having stood in line for more than two hours already) to vote on the machine rather than paper.

          • ksmeyer

            The same was true in Lyon Park: people waited in line even when there was no waiting for paper ballots.

            The paper ballots were used for the presidential election this year (as in 2008) in order to increase the capacity of voters we can serve at any time because the county is not allowed to purchase any more of the touchscreen machines due to a state law.

          • drax

            Few people seemed to want to vote by paper. Maybe they thought their vote might not get counted. But you just scanned the paper into a machine anyway. If the officials had explained that, maybe more people would have used the paper. I used it and had almost no wait. I walked past a big line of machine users still waiting.

          • SamW

            Those waiting at Walter Reed CC weren’t given the option of paper vs electronic until we had checked in after 2 hours. At that point, what was another 5 minutes to get a machine? If I was given the choice, I would’ve skipped waiting in line for a combined 3.5 hours and done a paper ballot.

          • Josh S

            Sam, I’m not sure that’s how it works. No, strike that. I know that’s not how it works.

            Wait in line to check in, THEN choose paper or plastic.

            If it had been otherwise, I lot more people would have voted by paper.

            But again – unless maybe you’re under 30 and computers have been your entire life, why would you have more faith in electrons than pen and paper, a technology that has been in existence for thousands of years? If there are still computerized datafiles easily readable thousands of years from now, I”ll be shocked.

          • drax

            I’m trying to remember what happened. Maybe the check-in line wasn’t long, but I think I was able to get into a much shorter check-in line for the paper ballot.

          • Josh S

            Haven’t paper ballots always been an option?

          • SamW

            Josh, that may be true, and it would make me feel a lot better, but unless I’ve misinterpreted other comments, several people like drax have stated that they skipped the lines by doing paper ballots. I don’t know how the rules work so I was just going off of what others seemed to experience.

          • SamW

            Might I add that my 2 hour wait was to get the check-in table and then the actually voting only took 5 minutes. Maybe other venues checked in earlier in line?

          • speonjosh

            I haven’t seen anything that indicates that anyone was able to bypass the long check-in lines by choosing paper ballots. It was simply the difference between an additional 5 minutes (for example) to vote by paper versus an additional 20 minutes (for example) to vote with a machine.

            But the question about paper ballots having always been an option goes to comments that paper ballots were “added” this election to deal with expected large crowds. I can’t remember ever voting where paper ballots weren’t an option. You may have had to ask for them there for a while, but I think they were still available.

  • brendan

    i would guess the turnout was actually higher as a percentage since the ‘active voter’ list has become increasingly less accurate in recent years due to a much more mobile population. The number of people that have lived in arlington for five years is significantly less, the number of people that will move within five years is significantly greater. While the registrar and election officials in Arlington/VA do a much better job than other states at keeping the voter rolls updated, there’s still a lag time.

  • Narlington

    I went @ 11 and waited 35 minutes. Hubby went after work and walked right in. Who would have thought? Just timing, no North /South issue. Oh brother.

    • JohnofCharleston

      Not true. My roommate got in line at 8:45, voted at 12:10. People who showed up to the Crystal Plaza line at 11 AM found a 2 hour wait. Same for arriving at 4 PM. When I got in line at 6:45, the volunteers told us the line was the shortest it had been the whole day. Even then, I waited 90 minutes.

      I wouldn’t say it’s a North/South thing, some of the poll-watchers said that they visited precincts adjacent to Crystal City, and they had no wait. But at some polling places, it didn’t matter when you showed up; you were going to wait at least an hour the entire day. Just because you weren’t inconvenienced doesn’t mean that other people weren’t.

      • Joe

        …. actually it is true. she experienced it first hand. just happened to be at a different polling station.

        • JohnofCharleston

          Sorry, I should have been more clear. It’s factually incorrect that the lines were just an issue of when you went to vote. At my precinct, no matter when you arrived, you were in for at least an hour wait, and the vast majority of voters waited at least two.

          • Cynthia Moan

            I didn’t vote. I’m glad I didn’t.

          • drax

            We don’t care.

          • Josh S

            There is still more clarity required.

            In SOME places it DID matter what time you went to vote.
            If we are prepared to believe your testimony, at YOUR precinct it didn’t matter.

            Faulty generalization from one observation.

          • drax

            So you saw every precinct, at all hours of the day, John?

            No, you didn’t.

  • Volo

    Why do they wait until it’s all over to count the absentee ballots? Wouldn’t it make more sense to count them as they come in so they can be inlcuded in the election day tallies? It seems to me that the absentee ballots basically don’t count unless the regular voting outcome is excruciatingly close, or something goes horribly wrong. Please educate me if I’m talking crazy!

    • Joe

      I suspect the absentee ballots are in some fat lazy clerk’s trash can….

      • Kathy in Arlington VA

        Why do you assume a lazy clerk is fat?

    • Voting

      I was one of the people counting the absentee ballots last night. They are counted beginning as soon as polls finished, and we were essentially finished (at least for the federal races) by 1:00 AM. So they are counted regardless of the outcome.
      State law prohibits counting the ballots until 7:00 PM because they don’t want anybody to know how the vote is going until after the polls are closed.

      • Josh S

        Nice explanation, thanks.

        One follow-up question: why would you finish with the federal races tally before the local races? Do you go through the stack (s) multiple times?

  • Dan

    Only 4 machines in Ballston precinct as well (plus a paper ballot scanner with only 4 stations to do paper ballots). 1.5 hour wait in the very early morning.

    Arlington may have 220 machines per registered voter but they were holding at least some of them in reservie.

    Pretty ridiculous that they couldn’t just set up a lot more paper ballot stations (which just consist of a chair & table, cardboard screen, and a pen) at polling stations. Seems much more cost-efficient to have a bunch of those (along with one paper ballot scanner per polling place) than the touch-screen machines.

    • FrenchyB

      One problem there – if you only have one scanner, but a dozen paper ballot stations, you’ll get a backup of voters waiting to scan their ballots (since the scanning is done by the voter, not an election official).

      • Dan

        Maybe a short backup on occasion, but the scanning doesn’t take very long at all. There was zero wait with 4 paper ballot stations. Meanwhile, there was a rather long line of folks whose eligibility to vote had been verified by election officials but were just waiting to vote.

  • BettyBoop

    So could Arlnow enlighten us via Arlington’s spokesperson on what an inactive registered voter is? I find the reference to active registered voter baffling. Silly me, I thought someone was registered to vote or not! Does one have to “do” something to stay active, or can one be bounced off the rolls for not voting for 2 or 3 years!!!??? Would be useful if Arlnow include a little follow-up info for spokesperson’s spokesings! Thanks.

    • franchised-voter

      I rolled up and they said I was inactive—I had my ID which matched my voter registration card address and I even looked myself online where it said I was registered and had the same address as the two above. I signed a form and then they let me vote so no major deal but it was ODD. No idea how or why I was inactive or why I was not informed—and it didnt say it online when I checked my status. Craziness.

      • Voting

        If you don’t respond to a letter from the election officials, or if they get word from some other agency that you have moved, you are marked as inactive. You then have to certify that you haven’t moved (fill out a form) at the polls on election day.

      • Tin Hat

        Plus, “they” know who you are and what you did.

  • Hattie McDaniel

    I think it must be one machine per 220 registered voters.

  • Jake

    Just adding one voting machine per location and then encouraging those who don’t want to wait to as long to vote with a paper ballot would have saved tons of people lots of time.

  • BoredHouseWife

    Claremont had 5 machines and the line was about 2 hours around 3 pm to closing

    • Claremont

      Claremont had 5 machines & 5 paper ballot set-ups. Went paper ballot – no wait time once I got checked in – after an hour. Got there before the polls opened – out at 7 am… Not so bad..

  • Juanita de Talmas

    the county’s population has grown considerably since.

    So have they increased the number of voting machines accordingly? I’d guess the answer is “no”.

    • drax

      They had the number required by state law.

  • Check the math

    118,000 total actual votes
    83% voter participation rate
    142,169 registered voters
    220 machines/reg. voter
    646 total machines
    52 polling places
    12.4 machines/polling place ?????

    Most anecdotal evidence suggests 4-5 machines per polling location, or 1/3 of the claimed amount.

    • Greg

      That is a very astute observation. Can we get an answer from someone on this? I was skeptical about the 220/person number after hearing so many other false claims come up through the day (i.e., state maximums, state wouldn’t permit any new machines this year even to replace broken ones).

  • Suburban Not Urban

    The state reports 306 machines which with 52 polling *(5 to 6) machines is about correct.


    A document on the county site says
    206 machines bought in 2005 and 130 in 2006.


    Combined with the report that in 2007 the VA gov’t decided that the paper trail for these machines is not adequate and doesn’t allow buying more.

  • southarlington

    So basically Arlington Co has 70 machines in storage somewhere .. friends in Barcroft area of fairfax with 3 or 4 machines only waited about 30 minutes ….but when friend’s husband drove he saw all the lines in Arlington …..very interesting you would think there would be lines in Fairfax also….

    • ksmeyer

      So 1-2 machines in reserve per precinct… Reasonable, no?

  • Eastwood

    I vote early and avoid the election day delays. A quick lunch in Arlington one day during the work week and a quick vote and then back to work.

    Silly requirement for need to vote early? I always “plan” to be out of town on election day, and each year those plans fall apart by election day, but at least my voting is done. (And I live with 2 blocks of my regular polling location.)

  • So happy that our voters came out for this important election. But I see much misinformation or lack of information on voting, and yes, it would be a great service if ARLNow would do a thorough article on all the details.

    But, I can add this much: the poster is correct that absentee (in-person or by mail) ballots cannot be counted before the polls close on election day. There will still be ballots to count—–provisional ballots that the voter follows up on, and some overseas and/or military ballots that are postmarked in time but may arrive late—-and the vote tally is not “official” for a few days, Friday perhaps being the deadline for that.

    The turnout on presidential-election years is always heavier than off years, even tho’ each election has important local and state issues that affect all residents. In many cases/communities, it is not practical for an election office to acquire and maintain as many machines as would be used only once every 4 years, then collect dust the next 3 years. That said, I do hope officials learn from this cycle and do better in the future. For all complaining about the long waits on Tues., tho’, I and many others tried to convince people to vote early (“absentee” as VA calls it, either in-person or by mail.) I can’t figure out why so few do this! I walked into one of the satellite polling places on Sat., Oct. 13 and was voted and out within a few minutes. Many people just don’t understand or hear this when they’re informed of it, no matter how often some of us try to mention it, and many are intimidated by the state requirement that you give a reason for not being able to vote on the first Tues. in Nov., “election day.” But no one checks up on you, the “excuses” are very general, and the voting offices actually welcome early (okay, “absentee”) voters if only for the reasons demonstrated on Tues., the long waits, frustration, need for the on-site officials to be dealing with other issues such as people at the wrong precinct, no longer registered, etc. The reasons you tha allow you to vote early include being out of town on election day, having a hearing, vision or mobility issue, needing an interpreter, being pregnant, ill, having a disability, being medical, military, police or other first-resonder personnel and so on. Many many more people could utilize this convenient way to be sure your vote is counted.

    By the way, I’m not sure on this, but the question of “Inactive” registered voter: I believe one must vote at least every 4 years (it might be 5) to be considered active. The person is still on the register, but with a figurative question mark. Death notices, changes of address outside of the state or jurisdiciton, and other info forwarded from the state will take a person off the register completely. I’m sure there are many many more details, but do remember for the future: be sure to keep your voter registration up to date, with any name change, new address, etc., and try absentee voting next time.

    • Glebe Roader

      Poppy, this is a very good summary. As you have mentioned, it’s very easy to vote early/absentee. Just select one of the reasons — there are many. There are convenient times and places — it’s all listed on the county web site.

    • John Fontain

      Great post. Thanks.

  • Dumbfounded

    There is a glitch in the details.

    There is no way that 21,837 write-in votes were cast for the Senate race (the same exact # as reported for Kaine).


    • Vote Early and Often

      It’s Arlington, so that is okay.

      • Dumbfounded

        How does no one at VBE not notice that almost 22K of the 29K write-in votes come from the absentee ballots in one jurisdiction?

        Did a voting machine at Courthouse malfunction? It would seem rather odd that Kaine would have one of his worst % in those voters most enthused about getting their votes in early!!

        In most of the rest of the precincts he hovers in the 60% range, but in absentee at 43%? And that happens to also be the exact # of write-ins?

        Doesn’t compute.

        • drax

          Obviously they accidentally entered Kaine’s votes into the write-in box on this website. Nothing but a typo.

          • Dumbfounded

            Yup. They fixed it with Arlington only having 333 Write-ins.

            Only a mere 43 write-ins from absentee.

            Although they haven’t fixed the Woodbury #’s yet.

      • KLO

        In Precinct 41, George Allen supposedly received 5,568 votes, which, if true, makes Precinct 41 where I voted the largest precinct by a factor of three and the only one of 51 precincts in Arlington in which George Allen had more votes than Tim Kaine. Methinks that Allen only actually received 568 votes. Someone must have tapped 5 twice by accident.

        • Miss Alignment

          Curious. If you compare that to the number of votes for President from Precinct 41 as 1,809. Does this invalidate all the votes from this precinct because of the unusual disparity?

  • bobbytiger

    I mean, why do we even have a vote in Arlington? If the name has a “D” after it, they will be the winner. Or, If it is a bond issue, it will be passed.


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