[Image via electionline]
Last week, I shared the news that longtime Boone County, MO Clerk Wendy Noren is retiring. Yesterday, Mindy Moretti of electionlineWeekly got together with Wendy for the latest in a series of “exit interviews” in the weekly newsletter:
When you got started in this business back in 1978, did you see yourself making a lifelong career out of it? What kept you running for re-election?
While I loved the job from the first day I started I did not plan on doing it the rest of my life. My goal then was to prove to my parents I could do a “real” job so they would let me return to Europe to study art history. Each year I was in the job new challenges would arise that I felt compelled to overcome before I left. Every challenge conquered opened the path to a new one to take on. Before I knew it, I had been there over 35 years and had conducted 10 presidential elections.
You’ve seen many changes in the administration of elections, what change to the process have you appreciated most? What change have you appreciated least?
When I started all registrations were processed by typewriters and hand written changes – we had no computer. I live or die by the quality of my registration file on Election Day so the advances in technology have been what I appreciate the most. The Internet allows me to let the voter control their registration and for me to communicate quickly with thousands of voters through email and text messaging. I also appreciate the fact that election administration has become something researchers now pay attention to – that can only help our profession.
As far as the least appreciated change it is the current atmosphere of political distrust which makes it difficult for people to innovate. Innovation requires the ability to “do it wrong till you do it right”. Because no level of failure is allowed in our business it is extremely difficult for creative people to advance new programs.
What would you say was your greatest accomplishment as an elections official?
I think my constant embrace of new technology. I always tried to look at what other businesses were doing to get ideas. For example, the first time I saw a barcode used in the grocery store I knew it would help my office. Soon after I had barcodes added to our computer printed election day voter lists so we could update voter history records quickly and accurately. Most recently it was the text messages from airlines of flight status that I used as model for sending training reminders to poll workers and upcoming text messaging to voters of polling place changes.
Do you have any regrets about your time in office? Anything you wish you would have accomplished but weren’t able to?
I very much wanted to conduct an election with early voting. Unfortunately Missouri has never been able to work out legislation that is satisfactory to the state and counties. I have so many voters who work shifts that make it difficult, if not impossible, to vote on Election Day. Missouri’s very strict absentee laws make it impossible for many people to get the chance to vote – except those willing to perjure themselves on the affidavit.
What challenge/task/principle would you charge the rest of the elections community to carry on in your honor?
While this applies to all election officials it applies most to election officials in college towns. I have always believed that I am the gatekeeper to young people’s entry in the election process. A good or bad experience the first time someone votes will carry with them throughout their life. If I fail to provide a good voting experience to a first time voters they may never return to the process. That is a responsibility we must all take seriously.
What will you miss most about being the Boone County clerk?
I worry my brain will atrophy without the constant stimulation that comes from always trying to create a better way of doing my work. Or frustrated if I think of something new that I cannot implement.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started in the election administration business?
Read, read, read, read. At least once a year your state’s election code cover to cover. Take advantage of all of the research that is now being done on the administration of elections – this did not exist when I started. As often as possible check out the business sections of NY Times and Wall Street Journal to find new technologies. And of course, check Electionline every day to see what is going on with election administrators all over the country.
What’s next for you, besides sleeping in on the next election day?
Spending time with family and cherished friends – many of whom I have neglected horribly over the years.
Thanks, as always to Mindy for conducting and sharing this “interview”. There is, unsurprisingly, a ton of good advice in this conversation – which is yet another piece of evidence of how valuable Wendy Noren has been to the field of elections throughout the years. Best of luck to her in retirement!