New Faces in Important Places for 2020

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As the 2020 election approaches, several states will have new election leadership in place following elections in Kentucky and Mississippi and appointments in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Secretaries of State

Republican Michael Adams won the race to become Kentucky’s new Secretary of State, where he will take charge of an office that has been a subject of controversy recently. The Courier-Journal has more:

Republican lawyer Michael G. Adams was elected Kentucky secretary of state on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Heather French Henry with about 52% of the vote…

Adams will replace departing Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has served the two terms allowed by law. The secretary of state oversees business filings and serves as the state’s top election official.

In a victory speech at the Republican election night party, Adams celebrated his win.

“Mission impossible has become mission accomplished,” he said. “In America, anyone can rise from obscurity. Never let them underestimate you, never underestimate yourself…”

Adams, a native of Paducah, has worked for Republican elected officials including Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Gov. Ernie Fletcher before becoming general counsel for the Republican Governors Association. Gov. Matt Bevin appointed Adams to the Kentucky Board of Elections, where he served for 1 ½ years before resigning to run for secretary of state.

Adams said prior to the election his priorities would be to “clean up the fallout” he said was left by his predecessor, Grimes. He also would require Kentuckians to display a photo ID to vote in order to reduce cheating and said he would work with the Trump administration.

In Mississippi, Republican Michael Watson was elected Secretary of State to replace Delbert Hosemann, who was elected Lt. Governor. As WLOX reports, Watson has some ideas for change:

Mississippi’s next Secretary of State is from the Gulf Coast and has big plans to move the Magnolia State forward.

Secretary of State elect Michael Watson grew up in Pascagoula and still resides in Jackson County. It’s the first time in 20 years that a Coast resident has held the statewide office, and he’s very eager to get started.

Watson says there are a couple of major projects he wants to tackle as soon as he takes office in January.

One of those changes include improving the Department of Public Safety’s process for getting drivers licenses.

“Moving the DMV from the Department of Public Safety over to the Secretary of State’s office has been one of our cornerstone issues,” said Watson. “When you travel the state of Mississippi, and over the last five to six years in the legislature, you continue to hear the issue about how people are having such a hard time getting our driver’s license and dealing with the DMV. What is it that we can do? We sat down and put a group together and said let’s make a plan. We feel like it’s a good move for it to come to the Secretary of State’s office. It’s really just ideas, simple ideas that we can implement when you’re focused on a problem because Mississippians deserve better service.”

Another one of Watson’s big projects is changing how statewide officials are elected.

“There’s a piece of Mississippi in our past that we want to do away with,” said Watson. “The way the statewide (officials) are elected, you have to do two things. One, you have to win the popular vote but number two, you also have to win the majority of the House districts. If you don’t meet both of those issues, then it goes to the House for a vote. So we’ve looked at that and the history of that and said that’s not good for Mississippi.”

Watson said he hopes these issues will gain momentum when state lawmakers had back to Jackson for the upcoming session. That legislative session re-convenes at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. Watson will officially be sworn in two days later on Jan. 9.

In Pennsylvania, Kathy Boockvar is the new Secretary of the Commonwealth after winning confirmation recently in the State Senate. She has been serving as acting secretary since January. Here is her bio:

Kathy Boockvar was appointed Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth on January 5, 2019 and confirmed by the Senate on November 19, 2019. In this role, Boockvar leads the Pennsylvania Department of State.

The mission of the Department is to promote the integrity of the electoral process, to support economic development through corporate filings and transactions, and to protect the health and safety of the public through professional licensure. The department upholds the highest standards of ethics and competence in the areas of elections, campaign finance, notarization, professional and occupational licensure, charitable solicitation, and professional boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts.

Boockvar is an attorney with an extensive background in public interest law and policy, election administration, and nonprofit healthcare administration, and has worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Most recently, she served as senior adviser to the governor on election modernization, leading and managing initiatives to improve security and technology in Pennsylvania’s elections and voting systems, in collaboration with federal, state, and county officials…

For many years, Boockvar worked as a poll worker and as a voting-rights attorney, gaining extensive knowledge of and experience with state and federal election laws and regulations, as well as local and county-level practices and procedures in Pennsylvania. Boockvar also worked for over a decade as a private practice attorney with a focus on employment law, and she began her career as a nonprofit Legal Services attorney, representing low-income, disabled, and senior clients, and victims of domestic violence…

In August 2019, Boockvar was appointed to serve as the Elections Committee Co-Chair for the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), working with her co-chair and Secretaries of State across the country to share best practices and provide the most secure and accessible elections to all eligible voters. In that capacity, she also serves as a NASS representative on the Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council (EIS-GCC). The EIS-GCC is a first of its kind collaboration among federal, state, and local officials to secure elections, working to formalize and improve information-sharing and communication protocols to ensure that timely threat information, support, and resources reach all election officials so they can respond to threats as they emerge.

State Election Director

Michigan’s SoS recently appointed Jonathan Brater as state election director. The Detroit News has more:

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has elevated her legal policy director to become Michigan’s next elections director.

Jonathan Brater will replace Director Sally Williams when she retires at the end of the year, Benson said in a Monday statement.

He is also the former counsel the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, a liberal group at New York University. At the Brennan Center, he focused on “modernizing elections in partnership with secretaries of state around the country,” Benson’s office said.

Brater, the department’s legal policy director, has worked alongside Williams since Benson, a Democrat, appointed him early this year. He is former executive editor of the University of Michigan’s Michigan Law Review.

“His deep expertise of elections practice nationally and in Michigan will be of tremendous benefit to the state,” Benson said in a statement.

Brater was selected to take Williams’ position during a three-day open application process shortly after Williams announced her retirement nearly two weeks ago. The state received eight applications for the position.

As elections director, Brater will oversee all activities governed by Michigan election law, including the Campaign Finance Act, the Lobby Registration Act and the Casino Interest Registration Act…

Brater of Ann Arbor will begin Jan. 2 as elections director. He said he was “humbled by the opportunity” in a statement Monday.

“I have spent my career seeking to strengthen democracy for all people, and I will continue that work for the people of Michigan,” Brater said.

Each of these individuals is stepping into a leadership position in the election community at a crucial time, with the 2020 election approaching and scrutiny of the voting process likely to be intense. Congratulations to all four of these new leaders and best of luck in 2020 – and beyond! Stay tuned …

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