Officers of Election administer the election in each voting precinct, including the Central Absentee Precinct. Every precinct must have at least three officers, but there are often many more. Each precinct has a chief and an assistant chief. Other officers are usually assigned to particular stations, such as the poll book, the ballot tabulator, greeting voters, or handling provisional ballots. Ideally, officers of election should be balance between representatives of the two major political parties and appointed by the Electoral Board from lists of recommendations provide by the local party chairs.
There’s a system described by the Code of Virginia and then what happens in practice and they don’t always match up. I’ll try to describe both to set the context.
In February, the Electoral Board appoints officers of election to a term of up to three years beginning on March 1, from lists of nominations submitted by the political parties by January 21. The officers should be drawn evenly from the two parties, with the advantage going to the Governor’s party in a precinct with an odd number of officers. The Board is authorized to appoint additional officers who do not represent a party, but, if practicable, should limit that to no more than one-third of the total for a precinct.
The Board designates a chief officer of election and an assistant for each precinct. Wherever practicable, the assistant will not represent the same party as the chief. Where party-representing officers are unavailable, non-affiliated officers may be appointed, but the registrar must provide notice to the parties at least 10 days prior to the election so that the parties may nominate additional officers.
The Board may appoint substitute officers (for appointed officers who are unable to serve) and additional officers (where more are needed for a precinct) after its February meeting. The Board or the registrar notify the parties when they intend to make such appointments and the parties have five business days to file additional nominations.
On March 1 and whenever additional appointments are made, the registrar must make a list available for public inspection in the office. The list is available upon request to political parties and candidates and must include the officers party designations and the precinct to which they are assigned.
In practice, the Boards do make some appointments in February, but almost every Board continues to make appointments throughout the year, especially in presidential election years. Registrars rarely give notice to the parties about additional appointments. Registrars hold off on making assignments to precincts until closer to the election. And, in many localities, registrars maintain lists where officers indicate that they’re willing to represent either party or no party and no regard is paid to striking the appropriate partisan balance.
Our candidates and our Party are best served when Republican Officers of Election are appointed and join with Democrat Officers to ensure that all the rules are adhered to in every polling place. The law was designed with this built in check and balance. We should insist on adhering to it.
Unit chairs should make nominations in January and continue making nominations throughout the year whenever they come across someone interested in volunteering. Unit chairs should regularly check the list and ensure that it includes party designations. And Unit chairs should encourage the assignment of known Republican officers of election as chiefs or assistants in every precinct.
This year, the central absentee precinct is particularly important.
(Click View page below to access attachments, a PDF copy of this article and templates for correspondence with your local electoral board to nominate officers and request the officer list)