[Image courtesy of graduateland]
Guadalupe County, TX election administrator Sue Basham abruptly resigned this week, unwilling to continue struggling with criticism that accompanies the increasing complexity of the job. The San Antonio Express-News has more:
“I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I used to,” Basham, 61, said after vacating her office Tuesday.
County Judge Kyle Kutscher said the county election commission plans to meet next week to discuss filling the vacancy.
“I think it will be difficult to find a good replacement,” he said. “It’s a thankless job. It’s very difficult trying to juggle all of the job demands and keep everybody happy.”
Basham had been the target of complaints about slow reporting of 2014 results, and seemed to suggest that critics might discover it wasn’t necessarily her:
“I will not bore you with excuses, I just apologize,” she said in a Nov. 5 email conveying results to the media and affected entities.
She later provided county commissioners with an analysis of the problems, which included late reporting by precincts, bad weather and a computer breakdown.
There were a few people who were upset on election night, Basham said Wednesday.
“I couldn’t get the results out any quicker than I did,” she said. “Hopefully, they can find someone who can get them out quicker than me.”
One factor is the growing list of state and federal requirements that can set up significant challenges for election offices:
John Oldham, president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said the job has become more complicated due to state and federal laws enacted in recent years.
Scheduling complications arose from The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment [MOVE] Act of 2009, a federal law which requires states to send requested absentee ballots to uniformed and overseas citizens no later than 45 days before a federal election.
“That caused the runoff dates for the March primaries to be moved to May, when the administrators also are doing the school and city elections,” Oldham said. “That caused a lot of problems, in terms of having enough equipment to conduct two elections.”
The Legislature addressed that calendar squeeze in 2011 by passing a law that gave cities, school districts and other entities with elections in May the option of moving them to a general election date in November. But it vastly expanded the November election workload of many administrators.
In Guadalupe County last year, Basham said, 13 local entities opted to hold elections on Nov. 4, though eight cancelled them because they had no contested races.
Even so, Basham was responsible for arranging more than 100 candidates and propositions on 41 different ballot formats. “If you factor in all of the precincts, there were 300-plus ballot styles,” she said.
She had electronic voting equipment. In counties using paper ballots, Oldham said, the hair-pulling can get heavy when elections are conducted for mulitple entities at once.
“If you’re using paper ballots and you have 15 stacks of different ballots at each precinct, you’re leaving it up to the election clerks to provide voters with the correct ballot,” he said. “You’re asking for problems.”
It’s never smart to use a single story to spot a trend, but I do wonder if we won’t start to see more of this kind of turnover in the field as 2016 approaches. With the advent of online registration, vote centers and other significant changes to the conduct of elections, election officials are increasingly being asked to do old things in a new way. While most election officials are willing and able to make such changes, the “audience” for elections – candidates and the media – doesn’t yet seem ready to accept these changes, putting pressure on administrators to produce results “the way we’ve always done it.” Failure to do so brings negative headlines and job insecurity.
In that environment, don’t be surprised to see more election professionals decide to let someone else take a turn.