Four New Secretaries Talk to electionlineWeekly

[Composite image created via electionlineWeekly]

[Clockwise from top left – Jay Ashcroft (MO), Maggie Tolouse Oliver (NM), Mac Warner (WV), Corey Stapleton (MT)]

The 2016 election saw a handful of new Secretaries of State take office, bringing with them new ideas and new priorities. Mindy Moretti of electionlineWeekly has views from four of them in this week’s issue:

This year brings us five new secretaries of state: Jay Ashcroft (R-Missouri), Corey Stapleton (R-Montana), Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D-New Mexico), Dennis Richardson (R-Oregon), and Mac Warner (R-West Virginia).

We asked each secretary what their top elections-related priorities are and why. Here are their responses. [Oregon’s Richardson was unable to participate and will appear in a future issue. – ed.]

We know these are busy times for everyone so we’d like to thank each of the new secretaries of state for getting back to us and we look forward to working with you in the years to come.

Jay Ashcroft, Missouri
Thank you for inviting me to share my priorities as Missouri’s chief elections officer.

Last November, when Missouri voters elected me Secretary of State, they also passed Constitutional Amendment 6 – a common sense voter identification measure – by a 63-37 margin. My highest priority this year is to seamlessly implement Missouri’s new voter ID law in conjunction with local election authorities.

The new voter ID law gives our local election officials the authority to request a photo identification to vote. This is a good step to strengthen the integrity of our elections. The law also describes alternate options for any voter who does not have photo identification. My office will work alongside our election officials to create a simple, easy-to-understand message so voters know exactly what to expect at their polling place.

The most beneficial piece of the law gives my office statutory authority to help voters who do not have photo identification. My office is empowered to individually assist those voters and facilitate the collection of documents that are required to obtain a free state photo ID. This piece of the law can be enormously valuable to a segment of the population that, in some ways, is hidden.

Most of us know how vital a photo identification is to participating in many common activities – driving a car, opening a bank account, getting a loan, even accepting employment. I’m looking forward to this law being a catalyst to provide a necessary ID to people who don’t hold one. You don’t often hear about laws having positive unintended consequences, but our new voter ID law provides one.

Finally, during my campaign for this office, I put together a 10-member bipartisan group of local election officials for the Election Integrity Task Force. We have already met, held spirited conference calls, and discussed important election issues. It is my responsibility to ensure our local election authorities have an open line of communication with the state’s chief election official, and we are well on our way to providing that.

I look forward to continuing to work closely and cooperatively with Missouri’s local election authorities and implementing the will of the voters, to require voter ID to strengthen the integrity of Missouri’s elections.

Corey Stapleton, Montana
I’ve always had a desire to do things that matter. After graduating high school, I chose to enlist in the Navy, and later was tapped by the Secretary of the Navy to attend Annapolis. After a fulfilling career as a Surface Warfare Officer, my wife and I chose to move back home, start a business, and raise our kids as fifth generation Montanans.

My love for this nation and my home state compelled to continue serving, and being chosen as Montana’s newly elected Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer is a privilege and an honor.

Elections are at the heart of our democracy, and my number one priority is ensuring the integrity of our voting process. Voting is a privilege denied to many in other parts of the world and we must not take for granted the great freedom that it is. Montanans should be able to have confidence that their voice and their vote count.

Montana has a history of fair and honest elections, thanks to the service of our county election officials. These public servants play an integral role in our elections process, ensuring accurate information and timely results. As technology continues to transform the way we conduct every aspect of our lives, the next generation of voters must be assured that the integrity of the process remains intact. Voter technology, too, continues to evolve, and it’s vital that we are nimble in adapting.

This year in Montana looks to be a rare and historic chance to hold a special election, as we anticipate the resignation of Congressman Zinke upon his confirmation to the Secretary of Interior. I look forward to the opportunity to showcase how a highly engaged state conducts a fair and efficient Special Election.

Following the Special Election, I will continue to work diligently to ensure that each of Montana’s 56 counties are equipped with the technology, tools and training they need.

I’ve often thought of the old adage, “When opinions clash, Democracy rings.” It is my duty as our Chief Elections Officer to ensure that Democracy rings.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico
Last November, I was elected New Mexico Secretary of State on a platform of government reform: increasing ethics and transparency for public officials; continuing to modernize and increase the integrity of our election system; and streamlining the process for starting a business in New Mexico. When I took office on December 9, 2016, I immediately began working on these priority issues.

Increasing ethics and transparency: This area of my office’s work allows the most opportunity for improvement. New Mexico laws are too vague and we have a campaign finance reporting system that needs serious improvement. I am currently supporting legislation that would provide clarity for candidates and campaigns that must comply with our Campaign Reporting Act, as well as require disclosure by individuals and entities that make independent expenditures in elections. We are beginning to promulgate new rules and guidance regarding filing of campaign reports, clarification as to how campaign money can be raised and spent, and what will happen if a candidate or campaign willingly violates those statutes and rules. To compliment these new statutes and rules, we are working on a major upgrade of New Mexico’s campaign finance system, to provide the public with more and better information about money in politics.

Election Modernization and Integrity: New Mexico has made great strides in election modernization and integrity with the implementation of online voter registration last year, and by becoming the 20th state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) last summer. In order to make our voter registration rolls even more accurate and up-to-date, I am advocating legislation that would require automatic voter registration in New Mexico. In this way, we could further utilize verified data to register and keep voter registration rolls as accurate as possible in the Technology Age. Paired with the goal of accuracy, reducing barriers to the ballot box would be an added bonus to implementation of automatic voter registration.

Reducing Barriers to Creating a Business: The NM Secretary of State’s office has made great strides in recent years to improve our online business registration system, however, there are still challenges to be overcome. By continuing to improve this system, we will drastically bring down turnaround times when registering a new business, as well as provide even more services to current and potential business owners. Working together with other state agencies, we will soon roll out New Mexico’s first online business portal, a “one-stop-shop” approach similar to those already in existence in other states, which will help current and potential businesses alike navigate the ins and outs of state requirements such as registration, renewals, filing taxes, obtaining licenses and complying with other business regulations.

Overall, my goal as Secretary of State is to build an office worthy of the people who elected me and who pay the salaries of every employee in my office. By working on these priorities, New Mexicans should be able to increase their trust in government, and have more and better information about how their government is working for them.

Mac Warner, West Virginia
The November 8th general election was a call to action: the people of West Virginia no longer wanted “business as usual.”  Rather, people voted for transparency, efficiency, frugal government, and continual focus on our economy. In short, they want government to produce an environment friendly to business and job creation. My office is already at work, making changes to improve the business climate in West Virginia.

First, we have already assembled a staff of professional people who embrace change, change responsive to the customers we serve – county clerks, business owners, city clerks & recorders, entrepreneurs, and the public at large. Noting a desire from the public for expanded hours, we’re now open at 7:30 a.m. and won’t close until 5 p.m. – or until the last customer has finished in person, however late that may be.

Second, we’re moving everything we can to “online.” Given the budget crisis this State is facing, every aspect of government must modernize, become more efficient, and reduce costs wherever possible. Going paperless and working through the internet is not only faster, easier and cheaper, it’s working “at the speed of business.”

Third, to affect this transformation and modernization, we are putting six Field Service Representatives into all regions of West Virginia. It is the duty of these Field Representatives to assist new businesses to register and get on line, to work side-by-side with county clerks to improve our office’s assistance as they do their work within their respective counties, and to reach out to voters and candidates, assisting with registration, election questions, and associated issues. The Field Reps will serve as “mobile Secretary of State offices,” providing instant communication between citizens/businesses and our office as needed.

Fourth, working within budget, we will modernize our in-house operations, especially in regards to our interface with the public via our website. The website will undergo constant updating to become as user-friendly as possible, all the while providing state-of-the-art security. Our Information Technology Director, Dave Tackett, has already attended a “Tech Talk” in Washington, D.C. to stay abreast of the latest cyber-threats and updates. Maintaining election and business security is his utmost duty and focus. Mr. Tackett is also developing an updated and user-friendly website that provides the public with 24-hour access to the forms, filings and information they need to be successful.

Fifth, Matthew Gallagher in our office is now in charge of our “one-stop shop” to assist businesses and business owners. Matthew is working with our IT Department to construct a user-friendly website, and streamline the business registration and annual reporting process. 

Finally, we want everyone to know that we’re listening. We’re listening to the citizens and business owners of West Virginia, we’re listening to the Governor and West Virginia Legislature, and we’re listening to the dedicated employees who have years of experience running our state government.

We value every customer who calls our Office. We will do the very best to assist every caller and respond to every inquiry in a timely, accurate and consistent manner.  Hearing from you is the way we stay in touch with what is happening and what is needed to improve West Virginia.  Hearing ideas, implementing suggestions, and listening to concerns of the general public and those we serve is how we make government more frugal, efficient, and responsive.

Kudos, as always, to Mindy for sharing the new Secretaries’ priorities with the field – and best of luck to all of them as they take on the responsibility of leading and managing their states’ election system. It will certainly be an exciting and challenging task.

I look forward to hearing more about what’s happening in each of these states. Stay tuned …

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