By Carol Vaughn –
Accomack County Registrar of Electors Patricia White is retiring on June 30 after working 33 years at the voter registration office.
The Registrar is the only constitutional officer in the localities of Virginia who is appointed and not elected.
It is about ensuring a fair and open government, since the person who supervises the vote and the elections does not have to be an elected official.
Instead, the clerk is appointed every four years by the local electoral council, whose members themselves are appointed by the circuit court judge from nominations submitted by the two main political parties.
The Registrar General, White’s official title, is responsible for overseeing voter registration, maintaining voter registration records, supervising employees of the Registrar’s office, and coordinating elections, including including training and supervision of election officials.
The Registrar General is generally the public face of the local electoral process.
White was appointed Registrar General when Ann Loukx retired in 2013, having been hired in 1988 as a part-time Deputy Registrar and becoming Deputy Registrar in 1991.
Office practices have changed a lot since White started working in February 1988.
At that time, a person had to register to vote by appearing in person before the Clerk or Deputy Clerk.
The office had only two employees working there, the clerk and the deputy clerk.
There were also field registrars at various locations throughout the county. A person could come to the home of the field registrar and register – “again, all the recordings were made in person, with the fact that you have to raise your right hand and take the oath that was read to you. by the registrar and then sign your application, ”White said.
“Now most people sign up online or at the DMV and we never see them,” she said.
Of course, no computer was in use when White started working; applications were completed by hand and clerks had to determine which constituency an elector should be in, based on their description of where they lived, including route numbers and landmarks, as addresses Accomack County 911 had not yet been implemented.
A typed constituency card was then sent to Richmond, where the state electoral board entered the voter information into its system and then returned the card to the Accomack office.
“I saw the first computer come into the office when ‘the motorized voter’ started in 1996, which eliminated in-person registrations,” White said.
When White started working, the county used AVM voting machines, large metal machines in which a voter voted by pressing a lever under the candidate’s name.
Then the change was made to touchscreen voting and then to the optical scanning system used today.
Paper poll registers were then used by election officials to search for the names of voters; today, the information is accessible on a laptop.
The office of the Registrar of Electors moved three times during White’s tenure.
The office had to move when a building in the county where it was located, as well as the magistrate’s office and the juvenile court and family relations, was demolished to make way for the construction of the new building of the general district court.
The registrar has been moved to the neighboring building, where the town hall of Accomac is currently located.
“This move turned out to be quite entertaining and somewhat scary when the wrecking ball came in to overthrow the old building,” White said, adding, “In our office was an old safe, where we stored The voter cards. The funny thing was they could never demolish that vault, the whole building was collapsed and the vault stood up solidly. They had to bring in a crane to remove the safe. Needless to say, the earth shook beneath our feet many times during the demolition, literally.
White often says that if she stopped and looked back on memories of her years at the Registrar’s office, “I could write a book.”
If she had to choose just one, “it would be all the wonderful people who have worked in elections over the years,” she said, noting that some election officials have worked for years, “and I can say that everyone who worked is proud to serve their community on election day.
Asked about the accomplishments she is proud of, White said: “It is humbling to know that you have helped run a successful election every time we have one and that the integrity of every voter is held up to the highest standards. higher. There are so many active parties that most voters will never know how to perform before, during and after every election, no matter how big the turnout is.
“I guess what I’m most proud of is last year, 2020. In 2019, we knew early voting was going to start by the November 2020 election and we needed to find a bigger office or find somewhere in the county to have several satellite sites.
“The solution was to move to where we are now and get the oversight board funding for the renovations.
“So from fall 2019 to November 2020, we held four elections (all with restrictions and COVID challenges), moved our office, and saw over 6,000 voters go through this office to vote at the advance polls before the november election – that may not sound like much, but when you finish a primary election at the end of June and move an entire office by the first week of July and never skip a beat you can be proud of. “
Among the challenges facing the Registrar are the many electoral laws passed by the General Assembly in recent years, which are changing the way the office does business.
“For those of us who have seen how elections have changed over the years, it can sometimes be difficult to adjust, while you may not agree that part of the change really benefits voters. However, a Clerk / Chief Electoral Officer takes an oath and swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth, so this is what we do and I did it with pride, ”White said.
With the advent of social media, voting seems to be more popular than before, White said, adding, “Which is a good thing until people start to doubt what you are doing and perhaps believe. be that they have to micromanage when they can’t fully understand what it takes to do that job.
The next registrar will sometimes need to be able to adapt quickly “to issues that may affect how best to serve voters and knowing that you are the person who will be held accountable if things go wrong,” according to White.
The main advice she has is “to always be aware of what you are doing, the importance of what it means to maintain and run the elections for the county and to maintain the integrity” of being in charge. elections.
When asked about her plans for retirement, White said she plans to take some time “to get used to what a ‘retirement’ looks like” and can’t wait to see “exactly where God plans to take me next!”