Sheri Iachetta: Registrar with a cause

Sheri Iachetta staunchly proclaims her nonpartisanship. And just when you think you see a hint of where her political allegiances lie– a Democratic donkey Beanie Baby on her desk– you discover it's near a Republican elephant.

Charlottesville's registrar of voters finds she's more excited by the act of voting than by the choice of who to vote for. Perhaps that comes from her childhood days of campaigning door-to-door with her father when he ran for the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. "It frustrated him that people were not interested in voting," she recalls. "That stuck with me."

Now it's not just a career; it's a mission. The first week of classes at UVA, she and her minions registered 500 students. The best thing about her job? "Seeing an 18-year-old coming in to register," she says.

Registrars serve four-year terms, and Iachetta was first appointed in 1999. That was shortly after she moved back to Charlottesville and five weeks before she married and became Sheri Iachetta Owen. The Iachetta stuck, at least professionally.

Before becoming the keeper of Charlottesville's voting records, Iachetta traveled all over the country teaching police officers how to instruct women in self-defense, and she's still on the board of Rape Aggression Defense Systems.

But her first love is music– she has two degrees– and nothing makes her happier than belting out The Star-Spangled Banner and the national anthems of foreign visitors. When a video-cam toting Bulgarian delegation paid a call, she sang their anthem– in Bulgarian– and her performance aired all over their country.

While singing is one of the job's perks, a registrar's worst fear is of, well, something like the butterfly ballot that plagued Palm Beach in 2000.

Iachetta precluded that possibility when she oversaw the City's 2002 replacement of its chad-using voting gear for a fresh array of Hart eSlate voting machines. Still, there have been glitches.

In one case, the machines at the two largest precincts ran out of tape for the access codes all voters are given. "That was a nightmare," Iachetta groans. "People were lined up for almost 30 minutes."

In another election, the machines starting going down, and Iachetta was getting panicked calls of "Oh, no, another just dropped." That, it turned out, was operator error. The machines weren't properly plugged in and were running off their batteries, which last only eight hours.

Iachetta stands by the new machines. "Since we purchased them, five or six more have been certified. I'd still pick this one," she says.

And don't even talk to her about the chances of someone hacking into them. "You're going to have to go through me," declares Iachetta, in an it-ain't-gonna-happen tone of voice.

There's another misconception about her job. "People think registrars work one day a year"– Election Day. Not so. Right now, she and her staff are putting in 50- to 60-hour weeks, and things won't slow down until January.

During the course of a visit, Iachetta's phone keeps ringing and her computer keeps beeping, reminders of the registrar's busy season and all those new voters she's registering.

Charlottesville's most nonpartisan appointee doesn't care who you vote for, as long as you vote. Because as her mousepad proclaims, "If you don't vote, you can't complain."

Age: 40

Why here? I grew up here, went away for about 15 years then came back here to get married and stayed.

Worst about living here? No good shopping malls

Favorite hangout? My parents' house– the house I grew up in

Most overrated virtue? My patience

People would be surprised to know: I was adopted when I was six weeks old.

What would you change about yourself? I'd learn to say, "No, I can't right now."

Proudest accomplishment? My master's degree

People find most annoying about you: I schedule everything!

Whom do you admire? My former minister, Dr. Ellis

Favorite book? Any Sue Grafton Alphabet mystery

Subject that causes you to rant? People who don't turn right in the turn lane at Greenbrier and Rio Road

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Wireless technology

Biggest 21st-century creep out? Cloning

What do you drive? A mom van

In your car CD player right now: It alternates between Phantom of the Opera and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Next journey? Las Vegas with my husband

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? At a high school choir trip, I put beer in a Coke can at a party, got caught and was grounded by my dad.

Regret: That I didn't marry my husband when he first asked me

Favorite comfort food: Cabernet sauvignon and cheese

Always in your refrigerator: Milk (I have three kids at my house).

Must-see TV: Law & Order

 Favorite cartoon: It's becoming Spiderman from watching it with my son

Describe a perfect day. Sitting by the pool with a big, thick book

Walter Mitty fantasy: Singing the lead role in La Boheme

 Who'd play you in the movie? Susan Sarandon

Most embarrassing moment? During one of my voice recitals on stage, I forgot some words I was singing in Italian and started singing French until I could remember the rest of the words.

Best advice you ever got? "You have to follow your heart."

Favorite bumper sticker? Chad happens!

Sherry Iachetta

Sherry Iachetta