I’m New Here: electionlineWeekly Profiles New Chief State Election Officials

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The 2018 election saw a tremendous change in elections at the state level, with new chief state officials in over one-quarter of the nation. That many new faces could be hard to keep up with – but fortunately my friend Mindy Moretti has a quick rundown in the latest electionlineWeekly:

A new year means new faces in 13 state election offices around the nation.

They come from a variety of backgrounds including county elections offices, social work, and the business community. They are lawyers and Army veterans. Many have served in their state Legislatures.

As they ramp up their new offices, there are plenty of new faces, but also some faces familiar to the elections world serving as staff or on transition teams.

They’ve got big plans for their offices in the coming years, but before we get to that, let’s meet the 13 newest kids on the block.

Alaska — Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer is in charge of elections in Alaska, although the bulk of the work and oversight is done by the Division of Elections. As part of his duties, Meyer gets to appoint who runs the Division of Elections and in December he appointed Gail Fenumiai to serve as director. Fenumiai has 17 years of experience with the Division of Elections and previously served as its director from 2008 to 2015. “Gail has the skills, wisdom, experience and judgement to restore Alaskan’s faith and trust in our elections process and that is exactly what we pledge to do.” said Meyer.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/akelections

 

Arizona — Former State Sen. Katie Hobbs (D) was elected in November. Before being elected, Hobbs was a social worker for 25 year and was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010 before elected to the Senate in 2012 where she served as Minority Leader. In her inauguration speech this week, Hobbs vowed to “restore faith and confidence” the secretary’s office. “You never again want to arrive at a polling place to see long lines and wait times so lengthy you’re disenfranchised as a voter simply because you had to get to work or school or home and could wait no longer,” she said according to the Arizona Republic.
Twitter: @SecretaryHobbs
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SecretaryHobbs

 

Arkansas — John Thurston (R) will be sworn into office as Arkansas’ new secretary of state on January 15. Thurston previously served as the state’s Commissioner of Lands for two terms. Shortly after his election, Thurston told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that one of his top priorities in office would be streamlining the office itself. “The governor wants to consolidate and streamline,” Thurston told the paper. “I think that’s just good government, and every constitutional office and state agency should be doing that.” According to the paper, Thurston said his first order of business will be to develop a management structure that supports his style and encourages a healthy work environment.

 

Colorado — New Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold was sworn into office this week. According to the state’s website, she is the youngest elected secretary of state in the country. This is her first elected office and before her election Griswold practiced international anti-corruption law and worked as a voter protection attorney. “I am honored to serve the people of Colorado as secretary of state. I will protect our elections and increase voter turnout…. Our state and our country deserve a democracy that we all can believe in.”
Twitter: @COSecofState
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ColoradoSoS

 

Florida — Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel (R) was appointed by newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to serve as the state’s 34th secretary of state. Ertel was first appointed to serve as the Seminole County supervisor of elections in 2005 and was subsequently elected and re-elected in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Prior to that he worked as a journalist and served in the Army for eight years. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Ertel said being secretary of state is “a very big job that goes beyond just elections….” But, he acknowledged, “the most high-profile thing we’ll really focus on in the beginning is help establish trust in the [election] process among Florida voters.” On his first full day in office as secretary, Ertel was spotted putting together his own office chair so we look for him to be very hands on!

 

Georgia — Following a December runoff election, Brad Raffensperger was elected as secretary of state and will be sworn in on January 14. Raffensperger was the CEO and owner of a specialty contracting and engineering design firm before being elected. He also served two terms in the Georgia General Assembly. According to NBC News, Raffensperger said he would make preventing voter fraud his priority, pledging to continue former Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s practice of strictly enforcing voter ID laws and pruning registration rolls of inactive voters. Following his election, Raffensperger was appointed to the SAFE Commission that is reviewing the state’s voting equipment and procedures and is soon expected to make recommendations on how the state elections should move forward.

 

Kansas — Monday, January 14 will mark the first day on the job for new Secretary of State Scott Schwab (R). Schwab was first elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2002. During his time in the House Schwab served as chairman of the House Elections Committee. Although as chair of the House Elections Committee, Schwab helped shepherd through some of Kansas’ more controversial election laws like proof-of-citizenship and voter, in an interview with Associated Press he pledged to make the office less visible. “People want things to calm down,” Schwab told the AP. Adding, “Every time you have a person take over an office, it’s going to have somebody else’s, somebody new’s, fingerprints,” he said. “We want folk to know there’s a new secretary of state and things will be handled differently.”

 

Michigan — Jocelyn Benson (D) was sworn in as Michigan’s 43’rd secretary of state earlier this year. Prior to her election she served as CEO and President of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) and dean of Wayne State University Law School. She is co-founder of Military Spouses of Michigan, a network dedicated to providing support and services to military spouses and their children. In her inaugural speech, Benson talked about beginning her career in Montgomery, Alabama and being impacted by the civil rights movement. “And now, as your Secretary of State, I will work every day to bring that same commitment as our state’s chief election officer to protect your vote, your voice, and our democracy.”
Twitter: @JocelynBenson
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MichiganSoS

 

Nebraska — Bob Evnen, who is set to be sworn in at press time is replacing John Gale who served Nebraska as secretary of state for 18 years. Evnen has a background in business law and has served on the Nebraska State Board of Education for eight years. In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald before his swearing in, Evnen said voter ID will be one of his main focuses as secretary of state, although it won’t be the first thing he introduces. He told the paper he would spend the next year looking at voter ID laws in other states before drafting and introducing his own legislation in 2020. “Having integrity in your voting system is absolutely fundamental in our democracy,” Evnen told the paper.

 

Ohio —Frank LaRose will serve as Ohio’s 51st secretary of state and will be sworn into office on January 12. Before being elected secretary, LaRose served in the Ohio Senate from 2011-2018. While in the Senate he sponsored a bill to eliminate six days of early voting and prohibit county boards of elections from sending unsolicited absentee voting applications. Before running for Senate, LaRose earned a Bronze Star as an Army Green Beret. “I’m humbled by the outpouring of support I received in this election, and it will be my honor to serve as your next Secretary of State. My vision is an Ohio with a thriving democracy and a prospering economy for everyone,” LaRose said on his transition website. “I plan to bring new ideas to this office and work harder than ever before to streamline the services we provide to businesses, be an advocate for entrepreneurs, and ensure that our elections remain secure and accessible.”

 

Pennsylvania — Kathy Boockvar was appointed acting secretary of the commonwealth on January 5. Boockvar is an attorney with a background in public interest law and policy, election administration, and nonprofit healthcare administration. Most recently, she served as senior adviser to the governor on election modernization, leading and managing initiatives to improve security and technology in Pennsylvania’s elections and voting systems, in collaboration with federal, state, and county officials.
Twitter: @PaStateDept

 

South Dakota — Steve Barnett was recently sworn in as South Dakota’s newest secretary of state. Before being elected to secretary of state, Barnett worked in the constituent services office for Sen. John Thune. He also served two terms as state auditor. “I always enjoyed public service…The secretary of state’s office will give me a chance to visit with constituents. I look forward to the opportunity to do that,” Barnett said in an interview with SDPB. In the interview Barnett said he was looking forward to getting involved with the National Association of Secretaries of State noting that it is important to know what other states are doing in the field of elections, especially when/if problems arise.

 

Texas — David Whitley is the 112th Texas secretary of state. He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in December 2018. Before being appointed secretary, Whitley served as deputy chief of staff and appointments director for Abbot. Whitley also worked with Abbott when he was attorney general.  “I am confident that in his new role as Secretary of State, David will continue to safeguard the integrity of our elections and maintain Texas’ standing on the international stage,” Abbott told the Caller Times. In remarks while opening the legislative session Whitely said he would make election integrity one of his top priorities and vowed to work with counties. “Whether it’s a local, state, or national election, our county officials are at the vanguard of defending our democratic process,” Whitley said. “I would like to extend a hand in partnership and offer the Secretary of State’s office as a steadfast resource as we continue to work together to protect and preserve our most cherished civic institution Our democracy is only as strong as the electoral process that maintains it, and I look forward to working with all of you to make it even stronger.”
Twitter: @TXSecofState
Facebook: www.facebook.com/txsecretary

Thanks as always to Mindy for pulling this primer together – and welcome to all these new members of the election community; the beginning of presidential election cycle is always an exciting time to join the field – and we look forward to hearing more from you in the months and years ahead! Stay tuned …

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