Free Lance-Star Letter

Published June 29, 2022


Commentary: Poll Workers Ensure Our Elections are Safe and Secure

It is very worrisome when Americans no longer trust our election process because some political candidates continue to support the big lie—i.e., Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

It is particularly disheartening because I know firsthand how careful our general registrars and election officials are to ensure our elections are safe and secure.

On June 21, I served as an officer of election for the Republican primary at one of the 27 polling locations in Stafford County.

This was the fourth time I have proudly done my part for our democracy—including during the 2020 presidential election.

We were at the precinct at 4:45 a.m., well before “dawn’s early light” to ready the polls for the first voters at 6 a.m. No tardiness.

Before we opened the doors, we all raised our right hands and took the oath.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will perform the duties for this election according to law and the best of my ability, and that I will studiously endeavor to prevent fraud, deceit, and abuse in conducting this election.”

Our same team of seven election officials was required to be there until the polls closed at 7 p.m. and the last voters in line had cast their ballots, well past the “twilight’s last gleaming.”

Throughout that very long day, I personally observed many of the steps we take to ensure the day’s vote is handled properly:

All election equipment is stored in a large red wire cage. Securely locked, it is opened and unpacked by the chief election officer in the presence of the entire team.

The voting machine is not connected to the internet. It just scans the ballots and tabulates the votes. Your ballot drops into a secure storage bin at the bottom of the machine. That’s it.

If the voter has accidentally marked more than one choice, the machine won’t accept it. That ballot is marked “spoiled,” put into a secure envelope, and the voter is given another ballot. This may happen rarely and is recorded in the chief’s “incident logbook.”

At the beginning of the day, the officers of election witness that the machine is set to zero. At the end, we watch as the count is run and each of us signs the paper report that is generated. The paper ballots are removed from the “belly of the beast” and put in a specially marked box, which is secured with “evidence” tape and driven by the chief to the registrar’s office that evening.

You may see us in a quiet corner of the room counting paper ballots. Ballots are securely wrapped in plastic in packs of 100. Before they are ready for voters, the pack must be counted twice—by two different officers—to be sure there are 100. Yes, we are that careful.

The poll books that are used to check in voters ensure voters cast only one ballot in each election. Period. Voters are not handed a ballot until it is verified they are eligible. If they have already voted, whether in person or with an absentee ballot, the poll book alerts the election officer. As can happen, If there is any question, e.g., the voter is in the wrong precinct or the voter requested but hasn’t received an absentee ballot, the precinct chief and assistant chief are experienced and ready to help.

At this past election, I sometimes felt voters came into the precinct “on guard” for fraud.

Please know that the volunteers you see working the polls are often your neighbors and are concerned about protecting our democracy too.

And please be sure to get your “I voted!” sticker on the way out the door.


Fran Larkins is a member of the League of Women Voters of the Fredericksburg Area


Free Lance-Star Letter

Published May 30, 2022


Young voters will help elect honest, trustworthy officials

The League of Women Voters Fredericksburg Area works to register as many eligible voters as possible and then motivate them to actually cast their ballots. We envision a democracy in which every person has the desire, the right, and the knowledge to participate.

Historically, those in the 18–29 years age group are less likely to exercise their civic duty by voting. Accordingly, during the 2021–22 school year, the League set a goal of visiting as many high schools as possible in our area to register seniors to vote in Virginia elections. We visited nine high schools and signed up 483 young voters. We would like to thank the U.S. Government teachers, school librarians and administrators who supported our registration drives.

These newly registered voters can now begin to use their voices to elect honest and trustworthy officials, and to thereby directly participate in the ongoing work of democracy.


Susanna Botts

League of Women Voters of the Fredericksburg Area


Free Lance-Star Letter

Published December 15, 2021


Redistricting special masters need your input

One of the biggest changes coming to Fredericksburg with redistricting is that the city will no longer be divided between two Virginia House and two Senate districts. In general, redistricting maps for our surrounding counties are also much more compact. It will make it much easier for us to know who represents us and for our representatives to know us.

These maps were not “gerrymandered.” For the first time in hundreds of years, they were not drawn to benefit a particular politician or party. In fact, the special masters (one Republican and one Democrat) deliberately chose not to pay attention to incumbent addresses. They concentrated instead on drawing districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements. They paid attention to compactness and minimizing county and city splits while respecting communities of interest and natural boundaries.

Please, take a look at the maps. The maps and the Special Masters’ report are available at vacourts.gov/courts/scv/districting/maps_special_masters.pdf.

Fredericksburg can be found in House District 65, Senate District 27 and Congressional District 7. (The Special Masters left open the possibility of later renumbering the districts even further in a more logical manner.)

Do you have a concern about how your congressional, and Virginia State Senate and House maps are drawn? Are you separated from your neighbors in a way that doesn’t make sense? Don’t assume your comment won’t make a difference. The special masters are asking for your input.

You can place your comments directly on the maps, email the court, or sign-up to speak from 1–4 p.m. Friday at the second of two virtual hearings scheduled for this week. The court’s Redistricting Information page has all the details you should need to participate, vacourts.gov/courts/scv/districting/redistricting_information.pdf.


Fran Larkins


Free Lance-Star Letter

Published September 11, 2021


Continue to speak up for fair district maps

A big thank-you to area residents who spoke up at the first round of hearings before the Virginia Redistricting Commission in August. They clearly made an impression because I’ve heard the commissioners several times mention the need to keep cities such as Fredericksburg and Lynchburg whole.

As part of their “2021 Redistricting Guidelines and Criteria,” the commission also voted to “preserve political subdivisions [cities and counties] to the extent possible by avoiding unnecessary divisions.”

An overwhelming number of comments from the public also influenced the commissioners’ recent vote to start maps with a blank slate without consideration of current district maps. A huge win considering several other decisions by the commission were disappointingly partisan: to have two legal counsels and two map drawers.

There is new hope that citizens have a seat at this table and redistricting is not being done behind closed doors.

The first maps are starting to be drawn, and the commission needs to continually be made aware that we care about the outcome. They need to hear from us to ensure they have the information they need to draw fair and representative maps.

Your story is important, and there are many opportunities for you to participate. To submit your comments, visit the commission web site, virginiaredistricting.org, or email them to varedist@dls.virginia.gov.

Fran Larkins


Free Lance-Star Letter

Published December 1, 2020


Thanks to local election officials

On behalf of the League of Women Voters of the Fredericksburg area, I extend our gratitude and appreciation to the registrars, electoral boards, volunteers and poll workers who devoted countless hours of their time and effort to assure that voters in our region were able to cast their votes in a fair and secure way.

While the past four years made many citizens feel that America’s institutions were broken, our voting system once again clearly worked.

Election officials were undeterred in carrying out their legal responsibilities, shutting out the intimidations, the false rumors, the social media “noise” and the fears of catching the coronavirus. Combined with a staggering turnout of votes either by mail or at the polls, and under intense scrutiny that was sometimes over-the-top, they worked nonstop until all the votes were accurately counted.

At the same time that voters were inundating their offices with questions and concerns, the registrars and their staffs were helpful and willing to explain to callers how the process works.

When revisions to state voting laws seemed to be changing nearly every month, they also devoted their limited time to assist the league with our questions to ensure that we had the correct information to distribute to voters.

All citizens owe them an enormous debt of recognition for their service to our democracy.

Diane S. Shea


League of Women Voters of the Fredericksburg Area


Free Lance-Star Letter

Published May 28, 2019


Donations still needed for women’s monument

In this 100th year anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote, it is important for everyone to be aware of one of Virginia’s most ambitious projects: recognizing notable, but largely unknown, women in the commonwealth’s history.

“Voices from the Garden,” a monument to outstanding Virginia women, is being built on the grounds of the state capitol in Richmond and is expected to be dedicated on Oct. 14.

Surrounded by a beautiful plaza, the monument will commemorate 12 illustrious women whose achievements have not been recognized by most residents of the commonwealth.

They range from Ann Burras Laydon, a Jamestown colonist; to Elizabeth Keckly, author and seamstress; to Mary Todd Lincoln; to Adele Clark, Richmond suffragist; Maggie Walker, entrepreneur and civil rights leader; and Cockacoeske, chief of the Pumunkey Tribe.

Bronze statues will be erected in their honor, accompanied by their stories. There will also be a glass wall of honor hailing more than 230 women who have made significant contributions to the commonwealth throughout the last century.

About 90 percent of the total cost has been raised, with approximately $350,000 yet to be secured. Quoting former state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, vice-chair of the state commission building the project: “If every woman in Virginia gave $1, we’d have enough money.”

For more information, go to womensmonumentcom.virginia.gov/about.html.

Diane S. Shea