[Image via minnpost]
One of Minnesota’s favorite #electiongeeks, state election director Gary Poser, is retiring today – and Mindy Moretti of electionlineWeekly sat down virtually with him for one of her “exit interviews“:
Being called a “Competent Bureaucrat” by a major media outlet might not sound like a compliment, but it is something outgoing Minnesota Director of Elections Gary Poser is proud of.
And now, after almost 30 years as a “competent bureaucrat” working in the field of elections, Poser is ready to become a most excellent retiree.
Before becoming director of elections in 2007, Poser had more than 17 years of elections experience working in Anoka, Hennepin and Washington counties in Minnesota. He has served on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Standards Board, chair ofERIC and in numerous executive roles in the National Association of State Elections Directors.
“It’s been an honor to work with Gary over the years as part of Minnesota’s top-notch election team. It will be hard to imagine the state election office without him – but I know how much he loves his home state and I have no doubt he will absolutely enjoy his retirement,” said Doug Chapin, director of elections research at Fors Marsh Group and University of Minnesota instructor. “Hopefully he won’t be a stranger, but if I ever need to find him I can always consult the Pierz High School football schedule!”
Congratulations and good luck Gary!
Why have you decided to retire at this time?
Because I am eligible to! I’ve completed participating in 17 state general election cycles, which includes 3 statewide recounts and 3 redistricting periods – I’m ready to retire!
What are you most proud of during your time in Minnesota elections?
Being able to serve the voters of Minnesota, who continually turnout in high numbers is something I’m very proud of. There are so many other things from implementing online voter registration, online absentee applications, joining ERIC, expanding absentee and mail ballot modules in our statewide voter registration system, etc. Obviously surviving the 2008 U.S. Senate Recount was a major accomplishment and actually resulted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press labeling me as a “Competent Bureaucrat” in an article about the upcoming Governor’s recount in 2010. I don’t know of any other state employee being declared “competent” by a major newspaper, so I’ll go with that as what I’m most proud of.
Is there anything you were not able to accomplish as director of elections that you really wish you had?
There is always a long list of potential computer-type projects one would like to see accomplished that never quite make it up the priority list based on resources and needing to implement required changes due to law changes first, etc. More mobile optimization of our election night reporting website would probably be high on that list.
Minnesota usually ranks at or near the top of the nation in voter turnout–do you feel some responsibility for that? Is there (self-imposed) pressure to stay #1?
I think there is self-imposed pride in wanting to stay # 1. The quality of the candidates to make races close and the legal framework of how our elections work are big factors of turnout that are not in our administrative control. Making sure the we are enacting the laws as they do exist in ways that ease the administrative burdens of our local election officials and making the voter’s experience in the polling place or when voting absentee as positive as possible are the things we can do well so that voter’s continue to return regularly.
We can take responsibility for that part, but “we” includes my staff here at the Office of the Secretary of State as well as all the local election officials who work hard to make that happen.
What’s your advice to election officials caught in the middle of fierce, partisan legislative fights like the Minnesota saw on voter ID in 2012?
I think the best election officials can do is to be transparent and fair in how they administer the elections. The partisan fights need to stay in the political arena and not be brought into how the election itself is administered. Keep your head down and out of the line of fire.
You began your career at the county level before moving on to the state, how important do you think that is, for someone to work in local elections before moving on to the state level, either in the secretary of state’s office or as the chief elections official?
I think there is a difference between it being helpful versus being important. Having been at the county level, it was a huge help to me in understanding things from a local point of view and helped me to explain things in ways that were easily understood by the local election officials because I talked the same language. I think a state director coming in without that experience can still accomplish great things, it takes more time and effort to learn the system from both the state and local perspectives all at once but it can certainly be done. I’m just grateful that I had that experience coming in to the job.
If you could design the perfect elections system, what would it look like?
I don’t think there is a perfect elections system. It needs to meet the needs and wishes of the local community and that varies from state to state and changes over time. However, I think we spend an awful lot of time trying to get individuals to register to vote when the government already has so much of that data. It would be much more efficient to start with the existing government data and add to it rather than maintaining a completely separate database. I would definitely support automatic registration efforts.
Overall, what innovations would you like to see the elections community work on in the future?
I think the immediate future will continue to involve strengthening security around elections infrastructure and finding ways to implement and maintain that infrastructure all the way to the local level.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking forward to hiking in many of the great state parks and traveling the bike trails in Minnesota. I still need to check off baseball games at more ballparks around the country and will reinvigorate my efforts on my genealogy hobby. In the elections arena, I hope to explore the possibilities of participating in international observations.
Thanks as always to Mindy for this; as I said, I’ll miss working with Gary, but he’s earned his retirement … and like a true Minnesotan, I expect he will enjoy the sun even when it’s below zero outside. I tip my hat as an #electiongeek and adopted Minnesotan and wish Gary happy – if snowy – trails!
Stay tuned …