Longtime Michigan Election Director Chris Thomas to Retire

[Image via wcmu]

Yesterday, the election community learned it will soon lose one of its longest-tenured and most-respected state election officials after Chris Thomas, director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections, announced his impending retirement. The Detroit News has more:

Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas said Tuesday he will retire in June, capping a run that has spanned 36 years, five administrations and four bosses hailing from both major political parties.

Thomas was first appointed in 1981 by then-Secretary of State Richard Austin, a Democrat. He subsequently worked under three Republicans, including current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

“Enormous changes in the world of election administration have taken place over the past 40 years,” Thomas wrote in his resignation letter. “The bureau has never been better prepared or more cohesive as they are right now. I am comfortable leaving Michigan elections in these hands.


One of the hallmarks of Chris’ tenure was his ability to work as a nonpartisan – as evidenced by the kudos he received across the board:

Johnson said in a statement she was “incredibly grateful” for the experience and expertise Thomas brought to the job.

“Michigan voters and election workers have benefited tremendously from his leadership,” she said. “I know of no one else here in Michigan or nationwide who has done more to support voters and improve election administration…”

Thomas has been a “level-headed” leader and his work under secretaries of state from both political parties “says a lot about his ability to just focus on the job and what’s best for voters,” said Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, a Democrat and former board president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks.

“He led a clear path toward running smooth elections, and I think he’ll definitely be missed,” Swope said. “His will be big shoes to fill for anybody.”

Even as he prepares to leave, Chris is thinking about the future:

The Bureau of Elections has faced many changes and could use more, Thomas said.

“We need secure absentee balloting for no reason,” he said, adding that the Bureau of Elections should not be a partisan office, although the secretary of state is partisan. “This business never ends. You never reach the point where you go, ‘Oh, we’ve arrived and everybody can just put their feet up and run elections each year.’ ”

The news may be a blow to those of us who’ve come to rely on Chris over the years, but it’s clear he’s found something better to do:

Asked later Tuesday about his pending retirement, Thomas pointed out he is 67 years old and getting married on March 11. “I could either keep working or be blissfully married, living in St. Joseph, Michigan,” he said. “So I picked the latter.”

Chris Thomas is someone I’ve always admired and whose advice I’ve always valued highly. I wasn’t alone; time and again he has exerted leadership in various national organizations and efforts to improve election administration, including serving as a founding member and two-time president of the National Association of State Election Directors and, most recently, as a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. For those reasons and more, his departure is a loss for the field – but the truth is that he earned a long and happy retirement YEARS ago. Congratulations to Chris on his upcoming marriage and best wishes on retirement – we’ll miss you but we’re glad you were with us for so long.

That said, I’d be shocked if Chris isn’t still around sharing his expertise with the elections community from time to time; can’t wait to see how, so like everyone else I’ll … stay tuned!


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