City still processing voters

Published 10:45 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

Almost two weeks after the voter registration deadline passed, election officials in Suffolk and elsewhere throughout the state are still processing applications.

The deadline to register was Oct. 6, and hundreds of absentee ballots already have been submitted, but as of late Friday afternoon, Registrar Sharon Thornhill and her staff still had boxes of on-time voter registration applications to enter into the computer.

“It’s been off the chain,” said Thornhill, adding she has been working at night and on weekends to deal with the surge of new applications. “I’ll be here on Saturday and Sunday too.”

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In fact, Thornhill has had to take on four additional part-time workers to help out with the pre-election workload.

Her office is hardly alone in dealing with the crush of new voters.

Virginia’s Board of Elections released figures this week showing that 486,170 new voter registrations had been received and processed statewide as of Oct. 14.

The city of Suffolk, alone, has received 5,331 new voter registrations since Jan. 1, according to the state’s figures. That represents an increase of 10.9 percent. Put another way, one in 10 voters on the books in Suffolk this election were not registered to vote last year.

“I’m simply amazed by the number of people registering in Suffolk,” Suffolk Electoral Board Chairman David Sylvia said. “Any way you look at it, this is going to be a historic election … and we’re expecting record turnout.

“We’re trying to make it as user-friendly as we can,” he said. “We’ve added new voting machines to some precincts … and (we) adjusted our manpower. We’re adding new people and … doing everything we can to streamline the process.”

Suffolk also has invested in electronic poll books to replace the thick printed books of registered voters that poll workers use to confirm voters’ names and addresses at the precincts. The computers will be used at 11 of the city’s 22 polling sites, Sylvia said.

The move will make Suffolk among the first Hampton Roads cities to use the high-tech poll books, he said.

The Electoral Board also will have an additional 40 workers – including approximately 30 local high school students – working the polls. It’s the first time the board has tapped the school system for poll workers, he said.

“We think it is a win-win system,” said Sylvia. “We think this will be a good educational opportunity for these young ladies and gentlemen, and … they bring in a lot of computer knowledge.

“It will provide the students with a firsthand view in dealing with the public and seeing the election process at work.”

Voters should still anticipate lines at the precincts, he said.

“People should be prepared and know who they are going to vote (for) before they get to the polls.”