Go West, Electiongeek: Thad Hall to Run Cococino County, AZ Elections

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Thad Hall, a longtime electiongeek and scholar who has recently joined the ranks of local election administration, is heading west from Columbia, South Carolina to Arizona’s Cococino County to be in charge of elections there. The State has more:

Interim Richland County Elections Director Thad Hall is leaving his post for a similar job in Arizona, meaning the embattled agency’s new board will have to start from scratch to find its next director.

Hall, who became interim director in May[,] told The State he has accepted a job as director of elections in Coconino County, Arizona. The move brings him closer to his son, a senior in high school in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I’m moving purely for personal reasons,” he said.

Richland County (Columbia), which has had its share of problems with election administration over the years, is now going back to square one on hiring a permanent director:

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Commission will meet Tuesday to name Hall’s interim successor and discuss a timeline for hiring a full-time replacement. Hall would have been a favorite in that search, offering some stability to an agency facing near-total leadership turnover.

The commission’s next moves are important as the agency navigates a challenging year ahead and attempts to move on from the November 2018 midterms, when it failed to count 1,000 votes. That mistake led Gov. Henry McMaster to fire the agency’s entire board. The new board then voted to get rid of the [county’s election director].

The agency now must implement new voting machines purchased by the state, then conduct municipal elections in November, a Democratic presidential primary in February, party primaries in June and a November 2020 general election that is expected to turn out more voters than any election in a century.

Efforts to reach commission chairman Charles Austin for comment Monday morning were unsuccessful.

Duncan Buell, another member of the board, said the commission has no hard feelings about Hall’s departure.

“Flagstaff? It’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s gorgeous — 7,000 feet (above sea level). It’s 2 1/2 hours to the Grand Canyon,” said Buell, a University of South Carolina professor who attended college at the University of Arizona. “I can’t blame him. It puts him closer to his son.”

The move may not be a “promotion” in the strictest sense for Hall, but it will allow him to step away from Richland County’s rather chaotic and troubled record of election management – plus it will bring him to one of the nation’s more scenic locations:

Hall, the agency’s sixth leader since 2012, acknowledged taking the Arizona job is a “lateral move” by industry standards. His pay will be similar to if he had stayed in Richland, he said.

But he said his new agency has a different structure. Notably, it isn’t governed by a politically appointed board.

It also runs elections in the second largest geographic county in the contiguous United States, one that includes a chunk of the Grand Canyon — including a polling location at the bottom that can be reached only by helicopter or donkey.

“It’s exciting,” Hall said.

This is a huge move for my friend and colleague Thad Hall – and a challenge I know he will be eager to tackle. Congratulations to him and Cococino County on their new partnership … and here’s hoping Richland County can figure out its management challenges so it can attract – and keep – quality leadership for the rest of 2019 and beyond. Save me a seat on that chopper (or donkey) – and stay tuned!

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