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  • Theresa Opeka / Carolina Journal

Surge in county election director turnover raises concern




During last week’s North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) board meeting, NCSBE’s Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell raised concerns about county election director vacancies across the state.


Although the current number of vacancies is small at three, she said they are part of an ongoing trend that is going in the wrong direction. 


“Basically, five years of tracking this information, we have had 58 changes in county election directors, and for some of these counties in this period of time, they will be on their third director,” Brinson Bell said. “So, this is not 58 unique, different counties. Some of these have had multiple changes, and you can see that that number has been pretty steady over these years, and with 2024, we’re just in March, and we’ve already had seven changes for this year, and I’m aware of a possible eighth change.” 


She said the majority of them – 36 – are due to retirement. Twenty resigned and of the twenty, only seven remained in the elections profession, with one going to another state to work in a county elections office. There has also been one death and one termination.

While she said she didn’t know if other county directors would be assuming the role in the current vacancies, Brinson Bell noted that 27 to 30 individuals will be at the helm for the first time in a presidential general election in November. 


The vacancy issue is not isolated to North Carolina. Brinson Bell said there is an exodus across the country, including in South Carolina, where the percentage is larger. 


“FUEL IS NOT IN THE FUEL TANK ANYMORE”

So, what is prompting the departures? In addition to reaching full retirement age, she said it also has to do with the changing work environment.


“I will say in talking with some of these folks, they aren’t necessarily ready to go out and speak to the media about it, but they will say that sometimes the fuel is not in the fuel tank anymore because of some of the hostility, because of some of the pressures of a lot of change that happens in the administration of elections in North Carolina and that it’s just a difficult work environment,” said Brinson Bell. “It’s still a work environment where a lot of times these folks are paid at a level of administrative work, not to disparage administrative work, but these jobs are more complex than administrative workdays of old.”


The days of sitting at a typewriter and typing registration cards, she said, have given way to more advanced critical infrastructure, cyber security issues, complex technology with voting equipment and computer systems, and the management of not only staff but the thousands of people who work as frontline workers at voting sites. In addition, there is also site management to secure the nearly 2600 voting places that are used on election day and the 500 or so that are used as voting sites for early voting. 


Brinson Bell has said she has made a plea to county commissioners that election officials should be paid accordingly and be appreciated for the work that they do and that they work more than two days out of the year. 


She also said that having field support is critical to making sure that everything runs smoothly, like in 2020 when the NCSBE had eight people with election experience providing field support. 


“Unfortunately, those positions were reduced to four because of funding,” Brinson Bell told the board. “We have now gotten two more in legislative funding back in the fall, taking us back up to six, but we’re at a time when our numbers have increased on the number of individuals who need our support. So, we are asking the legislature in our short session budget to increase us back to eight so that we don’t stretch our field support quite as much or the geography of what they’re having to cover.”


She stressed that having enough coverage is crucial to everything running smoothly, as election officials will be put to the greatest test given that more voters show up to the polls in a presidential election year. 


APPLICATIONS OPEN TO APPROVE PHOTO IDS FOR VOTING

In other election news, the NCSBE opened the application period on Monday for eligible educational institutions and government agencies to apply to have their student and employee photo IDs approved for voting purposes in the 2024 general election.


This will be the final opportunity to apply before the Nov. 5 election, the first general election with the new photo ID requirement. NCSBE will accept new applications from April 1 through June 14. Entities whose IDs have already been approved for the 2024 elections do not need to reapply. For a list of all IDs that are acceptable for voting purposes in the 2024 elections, including the entities whose student or employee IDs have already been approved, see Acceptable Forms of Photo ID: 2024 Primary Elections (PDF) or go to BringItNC.com.

NCSBE will review submissions to ensure they comply with state law criteria and will publish a list of newly approved ID cards after the application period closes. Cards approved in this round will be valid as a voter’s photo ID through Dec. 31, 2024.


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