Director of Elections: a part-time job with big- time consequences

Photo by Patty HardeePhoto by Patty Hardee
Rappahannock Director of Elections Kim McKiernan.

Kim McKiernan likens herself to an event planner—with one important distinction. “I plan huge events at seven locations simultaneously, I get no RSVPs and have no idea how many people will ‘attend.’ I program and maintain equipment, print all needed materials myself, am responsible for all the training and for submitting and overseeing certification of ‘event’ results. And if I do any of that wrong, I can go to jail.”

For the last four years, McKiernan has been Rappahannock’s Director of Elections. She has earned the Virginia Registered Election Officials (VREO) certification and is preparing to conduct her second presidential election. Running elections is a big job with big consequences. Her duties include overseeing programming, testing, and repairs of voting equipment; programming electronic poll books; training election officials; maintaining voter registrations including new voters, and voters who have moved, passed away, or been convicted of felonies; submitting daily reports using the state database; and conducting elections overall. “It takes months to prepare for an election regardless of whether it’s a town or a presidential election,” she says.

She’s also the main person responsible for making sure elections in the county follow the letter of a growing number of state and federal laws, such as the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) (aka, the Motor Voter Act), Help America Vote Act (HAVA), Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).

Annually, says McKiernan, an average of fifteen new election-related laws need to be implemented. In 1971, the federal code section governing elections totaled 153 pages with a 32-page index. Today, it has grown to 360 pages with a 53-page index and 12 appendices. Meanwhile, the number of registered voters has increased by 72 percent and the number of elections has increased by 32 percent, while funding from the states has decreased by 30 percent. There are now 12 different voter registration forms to understand.

McKiernan does all this part time

Rappahannock’s is one of 16 voting offices out of 133 in the state that operate part time, per statute and population count. The county’s voting office is open three days a week from January 1 to August 1 and five days a week the rest of the year. “Preparing for the primary last Tuesday,” says McKiernan, “my office was only open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for residents who wanted to vote absentee, update their registrations, or request a photo ID or new voter ID card.

Besides having limited access to the internet, she says, “many of the county’s residents commute daily to jobs out of the area, so have little flexibility to take time off for personal business. This unequal access affects our voters for all primaries, special elections and town elections.”

The part-time status is something McKiernan and her colleagues around the state feel has to change. “In the past few decades,” she says, “the election process has become more complex, thus increasing the responsibilities and procedures for all election officials.” And increasing the number of uncompensated hours these officials put in to ensure that elections run smoothly and legally. McKiernan estimates that part-time election officials have to work an additional 300 hours a year, for which they are not paid.

Efforts to make the position full time

In January, on legislative day, McKiernan and dozens of other state election officials descended on the General Assembly to lobby legislators to make the 16 part-time offices full time — to better serve voters equally statewide — and to upgrade the pay scales based on increased responsibilities. “The roles and duties of Directors of Elections, until recently, had not been studied or considered since 1991,” says McKiernan. “Action on this is being considered now in the General Assembly.” Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel is sponsoring budget amendments seeking adequate funding of election offices.

McKiernan met with Vogel, Delegate Peter Farrell, Delegate Michael Webert, legislative aides for Senator Mark Obenshain, and others. McKiernan hopes that Rappahannock voters will contact Delegate Webert and Senator Obenshain and urge them to express their support of the proposed amendments. She suggests that county residents also speak to their district’s supervisor and the County Administrator John McCarthy, as much of the funding for election officials’ positions comes from local budgets.

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