Overview of the Electoral Process

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constitution1     Democracy has deep roots in Virginia. Indeed, the first English parliamentary body outside the British Isles was chartered in 1619 in Virginia-the House of Burgesses, forerunner of today's House of Delegates. Two Burgesses were elected from each County and one from each chartered City to enact laws and approve taxes for the colonial government in Williamsburg. Virginia thus had nearly 150 years of experience in self-government before King George III sought to limit the colonists' liberties. It was therefore not by accident that Virginia was home to luminaries such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason and many others who had served as the elected representatives of their fellow Virginians before becoming leaders of a new nation.

     Virginia also pioneered time-proven procedures for elections and voting during the early decades of the Republic. With the Constitution of 1850, Virginia moved away from ownership of property as the primary qualification for voting to qualification based upon registration in one's primary place of residence. Shortly thereafter, Virginia authorized appointment of General Registrars in each County and chartered City to oversee the registration process. After the Civil War, Virginia introduced the secret ballot and created Electoral Boards to supervise the conduct of elections. Thus, for well over a century, Electoral Boards and their General Registrars have shared responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the voter registration process and the conduct of free and fair elections.

     In keeping with traditions going back to colonial days when sheriffs conducted elections, assisted by justices of the peace, present-day Electoral Boards and General Registrars are carefully kept separate constitutionally from the elected officers of state and local governments whose elections they oversee. Thus, each Electoral Board is appointed by the Circuit Court to represent the two major political parties serving the jurisdiction from which the Board is chosen. In turn, the Electoral Board appoints a General Registrar to a four-year term of office. In the case of the City of Fairfax, the City of Fairfax Democratic Committee and the City of Fairfax Republican Committee nominate their members to the 19th Circuit Court. The majority of the Judges then vote to appoint the party nominee to the Electoral Board. 

     The foundation upon which free and fair elections can be conducted is the integrity of the voter registration process. The General Registrar is responsible to ensure that all persons who want to be registered to vote and who meet the qualifications specified in the Virginia Constitution and the Code of Virginia are enrolled as registered voters. The voter registration rolls thus play a central role in preparing for local, state, and national elections. By law, these rolls are open to public inspection by any registered voter presenting himself at the General Registrar's Office. Throughout the year the General Registrar's staff works to ensure that the List of Registered Voters is accurate. Each day the staff adds new qualified voters and deletes those who have died, moved away, or disqualified themselves from voting. The Office of the General Registrar is located in the Sisson House.

     The City of Fairfax Electoral Board conducts public meetings periodically throughout the year to ensure that the General Registrar's Office is complying with election law. The Electoral Board is a true bi-partisan body. By law the Chairman and Secretary must be members of opposing political parties. Yet above all, the Board works for the impartiality and integrity of the electoral process.

     Elections require intensive planning and preparation. The General Registrar, serving as the Director of Elections must identify suitable polling places, acquire and test voting and other equipment, recruit and train Officers of Election, and obtain technical support and financial resources. The Director of Elections serves the City as the expert on election law and procedures, voting machines, ballot formulation, and Officer of Election recruiting and training. The General Registrar/Director of Elections also maintains candidates' filing and campaign finance records, validates candidate petitions, and serves as the department head.

     There are two "invisible pillars" supporting the City's elections. The first of these is a corps of some eighty trained Officers of Election responsible for managing all activities on election day at the City's polling stations. These Officers must be registered voters of the Commonwealth of Virginia, who are not elected officials or deputies of such officials, and who subscribe to an Oath of Office pledging to serve impartially. Each Officer puts in a 14-16 hour day on Election Day, in addition to many hours of pre-election training mandated by law. The pay is small; the City's Election Officers serve their fellow citizens from a sense of duty, civic pride, and a firm belief in the democratic process.

     The other "invisible pillar" is the City Staff itself. Without the support of virtually ALL the departments in the City, elections could not take place. Each City Department plays a valuable, and in some cases critical, role in supporting election operations.

     As can be seen, elections are complex, major undertakings that require careful planning, advance preparation, and smooth execution on Election Day. Successful elections are not just the work of one or two people, but the product of many people working together as a team.  City of Fairfax elections are fair, honest, transparent, and run smoothly due to the dedication of the City's Officers of Election, the professionalism of the City's staff and their departments, and to the public-spirited nature of the citizens themselves.

      We hope to continue to prove ourselves worthy stewards of the Commonwealth's proud tradition of nearly four centuries of orderly democratic processes.


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