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County seeks $5M for multi-year effort to update voting machines

A Fairfax County voting machine in use during the June 2021 primary election (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Early voting for the next general election has just gotten underway, but Fairfax County’s elections staff is already planning for next year and beyond.

The county’s Office of Elections has requested $5 million to launch a multi-year rollout of new, updated voting machines as part of a $190 million spending package carried over from fiscal year 2022, which ended on June 30.

Expected to start in 2023, the process will replace more than 1,200 machines owned by the county, according to Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy. The existing machines are now eight years old.

“While the machines are secure, function well and meet current standards, the Office of Elections will replace them to keep up with technology changes, as well as meet new federal security guidelines that will become the standard in the near future,” Worthy said.

The voting machine replacement plan is one of several initiatives covered by the FY 2022 carryover review, which uses surplus funds to address previously approved or new, one-time budget items.

Buoyed by higher-than-anticipated revenue from staff vacancies and close spending management, per an Aug. 1 memo from County Executive Bryan Hill, the package includes a net total of 30 new positions, 27 of them for the upcoming South County Animal Shelter.

The animal shelter positions are needed to ensure the facility is staffed for an expected opening in May, Chief Financial Officer Christian Jackson told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee on Sept. 20.

The proposal raised some eyebrows, since it will require ongoing funding.

“We have traditionally been very, very disciplined about using carryover for recurring expenses,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “30 is a lot [of positions].”

Jackson reassured the committee that the carryover will allocate $1.9 million to fill the positions for part of a year, but full-time funding of $2.9 million will be included in the county’s next proposed budget, which is typically presented in February each year.

Other notable items in the carryover review include:

  • $10.3 million for environmental initiatives, including electric vehicles and charging stations as well as LED streetlight replacements
  • $3.5 million for an expanded child care center at the Original Mount Vernon High School
  • $2.58 million for employee pay and benefits
  • $2.5 million to establish a Tysons anchor organization
  • $5 million for Fairfax County Park Authority capital projects
  • About $13.2 million for facility improvements, including the demolition of two Historic Courthouse wings and a long-term design for the Hybla Valley Community Center

The Board of Supervisors has also proposed using remaining unallocated money to help bring permanent restrooms to local high school stadiums, improve sidewalks to Huntley Meadows Park, enhance trails in Gum Springs, and hire a data scientist for the board auditor’s office.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity requested that the county address police staffing shortages with a $2.5 million reserve for one-time hiring bonuses. He also proposed letting employees defer retirement for two more years and enabling the police chief to hire retired officers.

Jackson said employees can only use the deferred retirement option for up to three years, but the current average is less than two years. She also said retired police officers can already be hired for a limited amount of time, since otherwise, they’d have to un-retire.

The board will vote on the carryover review after a public hearing on Oct. 11.

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