electionlineWeekly “Exit Interview” with Delaware’s Elaine Manlove

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The latest electionlineWeekly “exit interview” features Delaware’s Elaine Manlove, who is stepping down as state election commissioner after a lengthy career in the First State. Here’s Mindy Moretti:

For two decades, Elaine Manlove has worked in elections in Delaware. She started out as director of the Department of Elections in New Castle County for eight years and for the past 12 years she’s been The First State’s Election Commissioner. June 30th will be her last day.

“On behalf of the EAC, I want to congratulate Elaine Manlove on her retirement and thank her for her leadership and dedication to running excellent elections in Delaware,” said U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairwoman Christy McCormick. “I also want to extend special thanks and appreciation for her service to the EAC Standards Board over many years. She will be missed and we wish her all the best in her next adventure!”

It was while Manlove was in office that Delaware set the wheels in motion for what many now call automatic voter registration. The state created a system that allows voters to have registration information transmitted in real-time from the Division of Motor Vehicles to each county elections office.

“Elaine and I have spent many years together in the wonderful world of election administration,” said Maryland Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone. “Throughout that time she has been a valued ally and neighbor. Elaine graciously worked with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to help it move towards electronic transmission of voter registration data to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

During her tenure Delaware became second state to join ERIC and Manlove also served on the ERIC board.

In addition, Delaware recently implemented iVOTE.DE.GOV, a voter portal allowing citizens to complete voter registration applications online, update their voter registration information, request an absentee ballot, track that ballot once it has been returned and find who represents them as well as their polling place.

“We’ve all benefitted from the work Elaine did in Delaware and we’ve all enjoyed Elaine’s sharp sense of humor and joie de vivre,” said Keith Ingram, president of the National Association of State Election Directors and director of elections for the Texas secretary of state. “The voters of Delaware – and NASED – have been lucky to have her!”

Thanks for everything Elaine! We’ll miss you. Enjoy the beach!

Why have you decided to retire at this time?
First of all, I’m old and it’s time for someone else to take over.  My term ends in 2020, but I don’t think it’s fair to the next person to be on the learning curve in a Presidential Election year.  In addition, I have grandchildren and I would like to spend more time with them. Also, I live at the beach and never get to sit on the beach during the week!

What are you most proud of during your tenure as Delaware Election Commissioner?
I have a great IT team and because of them, we were able to solve a problem that I thought was unique to Delaware – not getting everything from DMV.  We developed what we call e-signature so that all voter registrations and declinations would come electronically from DMV to the Elections office in real time.  We saw it only as a solution to our problem and we never envisioned that it would morph into Automatic Voter Registration. I still think e-signature is better because voters have completed everything when they leave DMV.  We don’t have to send out follow up information which is an added expense and not always effective. On the e-signature platform, we built online voter registration and also eliminated all paper applications that come to our offices by scanning in the signed application and electronically linking it to the application in the system.  These changes dramatically improved the way we do business.

More recently, there was a huge task on my to-do list that had been on my radar for some time and was finally completed on my way out the door!  We purchased a new voting system, electronic poll books, a new absentee system and are moving our voter registration system from the state’s aging mainframe.  Delaware is no longer one of five states without a paper trail!!

With all due respect to Oregon, Delaware under your leadership really led the way for automatic voter registration. What are your thoughts on how far we’ve come on AVR and how far we still have to go?
As I said, I believe Delaware was the frontrunner in AVR even if we don’t automatically register everyone.  Motor voter is federal law but we need to make it easy for everyone and that starts with DMV. DMV is the touch point for most citizens and it often seems like they are the point of contact for anything and everything that government needs to get to citizens.  I know e-signature makes it easier for the staff at DMV. It’s just a win-win: a cost saver, a time-saver, and a simple and efficient way to register citizens to vote. I would love to sit down with every DMV director in the country and explain that this makes it easier for their agencies.  The amazing DMV Director that worked with us saw that right away!

How would you recommend getting elections officials in smaller or more remote jurisdictions to get involved in the conversation of where modernization is going nationally?
I believe organizations like The Election Center are critical to smaller jurisdictions.  When I started in Elections 20 years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about how the election system worked.  I had been a political volunteer and my only involvement was getting “my team” to the polling place. I never thought about who hired those poll workers or how those machines got to the polling place.  I learned first from the team in my office, but then also from other election officials around the country. For instance, I copied Student Poll Workers from Connie Schmidt. I learned as much during lunchtime discussions at events as I did during the formal sessions.  Election officials are happy to share what works for them and I was happy to take what would work in Delaware.

Is there anything that you weren’t able to accomplish during your years of service that you wish you had?
I wish I had been able to upgrade more of the staff members in our offices.  Unfortunately, the world thinks we work only 2 days every other year. Our staffers no longer file papers – everything is electronic so a different skill-set is required.  I have worked on many upgrades but there are many more that need to be done.

If you could design the perfect elections system, what would it look like?
I think it would look like what Delaware just purchased.  We have always voted on a full-face ballot – first the old lever machines, then a full-faced DRE.  Our new system has a full-faced ballot as well as a paper trail. It’s the best of both worlds – no culture shock of handing a Delaware voter a piece of paper and telling them to fill in the circle!!  Also, electronic poll books have been on my wish list since the initial HAVA funding. We now have them!

Any words of advice for someone just getting started in the elections business?
Learn from those around you – first in your own office.  I was fortunate to start with a great team in New Castle County who were already ahead of the curve.  Also, interact with your peers. I learned so much from people who are doing my job in other states. It’s invaluable – no need to make mistakes that someone else already has!  And be open and honest with the press.

What’s next for you, other than sleep in in on Election Day?
It will be a little scary not to have firm deadlines!  I plan to spend much more time with my family, do more traveling and be able to sit on the beach and read a book whenever I want!  I do hope to keep in touch with my “Elections” friends. It’s been a way of life for me for 20 years and one I know I will miss!

Congratulations to Elaine on her retirement and a fantastic career in the election community. I’ve seen Delaware’s beaches and it’s easy to understand why someone would want a chance to spend more time there – though I share Elaine’s hope that she won’t completely lose touch with the field. Thanks to Mindy for continuing this series (one of my favorite things in #electiongeek-dom) … have a wonderful weekend and stay tuned!

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