If It Were Easy Everyone Would Do It: Fairfax County Registrar Steps Down

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[Image courtesy of fairfaxcounty]

This morning’s Washington Post is reporting that Fairfax County, VA’s general registrar is stepping down after requesting that the county Electoral Board not reappoint her when her four-year term expires:

Cameron Quinn, whose four-year term expires Wednesday, submitted a letter to the county’s Electoral Board on Monday evening asking that she not be reappointed.

“I have recognized that, given the health challenges that have manifested since I began this job, it is not prudent to intentionally go through such stress as is engendered by a presidential election year in this position under the current circumstances,” Quinn said in her letter. [UPDATE – A copy of the letter is here.]

Quinn’s tenure at the county was certainly eventful, with lawsuits alleging partisanship and complaints about employee morale; indeed, she agreed to get additional management training and hire a chief operating officer after a 2013 report identified some problems affecting performance in the elections office. The allegations of partisanship, however, were not borne out:

Quinn, a Republican who had been secretary of the state Board of Elections, faced some accusations of political favoritism inside the office, but the Electoral Board determined that the allegations were unfounded.

But it’s not like the office was paralyzed or unable to do its job:

In an interview Tuesday, Quinn said that her job has been frustrating at times but that she was able to make important strides.

Among them: upgrading the county’s voting machines and successfully executing closely monitored ballot recounts after last year’s contests between Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Republican Ed Gillespie and the 2013 race between Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) and State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R).

“It is a very frustrating office with lots of challenges,” Quinn said. “It’s also got some very good people that generally do very good work.”

On the surface, this looks like a simple parting of the ways between an embattled administrator and a local government – but look a little deeper and you realize that Fairfax County already has a troubled history of wearing out and discarding registrars. From another Post article in October 2014:

There have been five general registrars in the county Elections Office during the past decade. Some were forced out, and others left in frustration, documents and interviews show.

“In a nutshell, it’s chaos,” said Randy Creller, who, as the county’s chief liaison between the unionized staff and Fairfax officials, has fielded complaints from workers in the Elections Office.

Full disclosure: I have known and worked with Cameron for many years and consider her a friend. She is trained as a lawyer and a straight talker by nature, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that she may have rubbed people the wrong way.

But it’s important to acknowledge another key point: it didn’t help that Quinn, a Republican, was overseeing elections in one of the state’s (and the nation’s) most reliably Democratic jurisdictions. And in that environment, any shortcoming (real or perceived) was bound to generate complaints – and it’s not surprising that Cameron decided she wasn’t up for staying on through the meat-grinder of a presidential election where Virginia could once again be a battleground state.

For its part, Fairfax County is moving on and preparing to find a replacement:

Katherine K. Hanley, the former chair of the County Board of Supervisors who is secretary of the Electoral Board, said she knew that Quinn’s resignation was forthcoming.

“It’s a tough job in a tough office, and we face tough challenges,” said Hanley, who is among the three-member board’s two Democrats.

Hanley said the Electoral Board has launched a nationwide search for a new general registrar with experience overseeing a complex elections office.

Here’s hoping that prospective applicants are fully aware of the challenges they face – and that Fairfax County makes sure that the entire elections office is committed to working together in good faith and in a nonpartisan manner going forward. Whatever management problems may have existed under Quinn, it’s clear from the record that the office itself is a problem to manage. If the County can’t get it right (hiring or overhaul or both), it will be saying goodbye to registrar number six and on to lucky(?) seven sooner than it may like.

I had lunch with Cameron recently and she mentioned that she was interested in writing a novel about the life of an election administrator. If anyone has the material, she does; I wish her the best in whatever is next for her – she’s certainly earned it after her very eventful stint in Fairfax County.

2 Comments on "If It Were Easy Everyone Would Do It: Fairfax County Registrar Steps Down"

  1. This is absolutely hilarious. Having known Ms. Quinn for quite a while myself you actually got me to laugh out loud a number of times. IT may not be “easy” as you say and not everyone would or could do it but Ms. Quinn clearly didn’t “do it” either. With multiple negative assessments from a number professional management consultants and experts flatly sating that Ms. Quinn’s management and people skills are clearly lacking and that her lack of these essential skill are the cause of significant dysfunction in the Office I find you statement that “it’s not like the office was paralyzed or unable to do its job” to be incredible. Clearly that is not and should not be the standards. “well no catastrophe occurred during Ms. Quinn’s term”. “The justice department was never called in to investigate any failures”. One could have said the same about Florida, before Bush/Gore that is. Perhaps no one was really looking. But the signs are there. When you have to call in professional management consultant to straighten things out, when you have to hire a management coach to teach Ms. Quinn the most basic management and people relations principals and skills, when you have numerous and practically unceasing employees complaints at all levels not to mention disdain from here professional colleagues through out Fairfax County Government; it doesn’t seem like a simple “it could have been worse the office never completely stopped functioning” really gets you much. So it wasn’t the titanic. It wasn’t world war II. It wasn’t even Enron or the IRS debacle. But clearly, if you know anything about how government works Ms. Quinn’s letter was just another face saving technique to allow her avoid her not being reappointed. Anyone who knows her as you claim to do would know she would never send such a letter if she had any chance at reappointment. It is best for everyone that she is gone.

  2. Oh yes. And I forgot to mention the part about writing a novel. Thank you so much for that laugh. I will be anxiously awaiting this thrill on Election Management! I expect it will be there in the book store right next to all those exciting volumes about actuaries and so on.

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