I. In Focus This Week
Texas’ Ann McGeehan elects to seek new challenges
After nearly a quarter of a century long-time elections official moves on
When Ann McGeehan applied for a job in the Texas secretary of state’s office, the most the recently licensed attorney knew about the administration of elections was how to cast her own ballot.
But she knew she didn’t want to work as a litigation attorney and also knew that she wanted to get back to Austin where she had attended undergrad and law school, so she applied and as they say, the rest is history.
After nearly a quarter of a century working in the elections division of the Lone Star state, McGeehan stepped down in November to pursue other challenges leaving behind a legacy of a hard worker who was fair but firm.
“Ann has worked tirelessly to ensure the electoral process in Texas is fair, accessible and secure. I am very grateful for her leadership, hard work and dedication to the state of Texas,” said Hope Andrade, Texas secretary of state. “While we will miss her, among her greatest accomplishments is the outstanding Elections staff she has built and who will maintain the high standards she has set for the Elections Division.”
McGeehan started out as a staff attorney where she got her elections sea legs by answering the state’s toll-free number set up to help the state’s political subdivisions with questions and issues. In 1991 she was promoted to the position of legal director and then in 1995 she became the director of the elections division.
During her tenure, McGeehan worked for 13 different secretaries of state and saw numerous changes in the way Americans cast their ballots. She also came eye-to-eye with an actual Texas longhorn, but more on that later.
Working for so many secretaries of state won McGeehan praises from her counterparts in other states throughout the country including Christopher Thomas, director of elections in the Michigan secretary of state’s office.
“Ann McGeehan reflects all that is right about good election administration in the United States. She set an unenviable record of working for far, far more secretaries of state than any other director in the country,” Thomas said. “To maintain a solid reputation of integrity and well-run elections with over 250 counties is a testament to her ability to adapt to new bosses. I can’t imagine!”
McGeehan chalks up her ability to work with a number of different secretaries of state from a variety of political backgrounds is that she’s fairly a-political herself.
“For me, I wasn’t a real political animal before I came to the secretary’s office and I’ve always seen my job as nothing more than an administrative position,” McGeehan said. “I came into this thinking it was a public service position and I wanted to maintain that not only for myself, but also the staff.”
In 22 years, McGeehan saw a lot of changes to how not only Texas, but also the United States administers elections. She ticked off some of the major changes during her time in office:
- Passage and implementation of the National Voter Registration Act;
- A legal challenge by disability advocates concerning accessible voting systems;
- The 2000 presidential election and the scrutiny that followed;
- Passage and implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002; and
- Passage and implementation of the MOVE Act.
It was during the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that McGeehan first met former Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Commissioner Ray Martinez.
"During my tenure as an EAC commissioner, there were a handful of election officials that I regularly called upon for objective, timely and frank advice about the state of U.S. elections and the proper role of the EAC in helping to improve election administration. Ann was one of them,” Martinez said. “Today, as an adjunct professor of public policy at The University of Texas Law School, Ann is one of my regular guest lecturers for my Election Law and Policy class. Her intellect, honesty and passion for public policy is admired by many. I know she will be a tremendous success in her future endeavors."
McGeehan’s long tenure as an elections official, especially during a period with so many changes made her a helpful resource to many within the elections industry not only in Texas, but nationwide.
“Ann is a consummate professional – one of electionline.org’s first ‘friends in the business’ who I could always count on for her ideas and encouragement, as well as friendly but firm criticism when we wrote something she didn’t think was correct or fair,” said Doug Chapin, director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “She is someone who I consider a model for the kind of person we need and want to be in election offices across the nation in the 21st Century.”
For McGeehan, the best part about working in elections was the uniqueness of the process.
“Elections are fun and exciting and each one is unique. In the state office, our job was to interpret the laws to apply fairly in all jurisdictions. Many times a statute does not answer the real question, so we had to use our best judgment to provide reliable, accurate, and nonpartisan advice and in many instances, create new processes and procedures that worked for our state,” McGeehan said. “The job turned out to be very creative and analytical, and generally very satisfying as we could see the fruits of our labor in the next election.”
But like any job, no matter how much you love it, there are some downsides and for McGeehan the downside to elections was the intense pressure.
“Election Day comes whether you are ready or not, so many times election officials must be very reactive,” McGeehan said. “In the ideal world, it would be great to have the time and resources to be more proactive.”
As for what’s next for McGeehan, while she’s now working with the Texas County and District Retirement System, she hasn’t given up completely on elections.
“I’d love to stay involved in elections,” McGeehan said. “ My work with TCDRS will keep me very busy, but I do plan to keep my toe in the elections’ pond and that may involve serving as a poll worker.”
Now back to that longhorn. As anyone who works in the world of elections knows, just about anything and everything can happen during the administration of an election. For McGeehan, one of those “anything and everything” moments came during the 2004 filing deadline for minor parties when the elections division had to set-up shop in another office because of a fire in their building.
“One of the minor parties showed up with a huge, fully developed, Texas longhorn as part of their filing party. As the longhorn thundered down Brazos Street and up the steps to the wrong building entrance, I tried to get the petitioners’ attention to redirect them to our temporary new office filing area. This proved more difficult than I would have imagined — I had no rope!” McGeehan said. “It was tricky for that longhorn to turn around without stabbing me or someone else with his longhorns on a fairly narrow downtown street. Let me say, I had never been that close to a longhorn and I never appreciated just how far those horns reach.”
Never a dull moment in 22 years.Happy trails Ann McGeehan!
II. Election News This Week
- In a speech this week in Texas, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that the U.S. Dept. of Justice will be aggressively reviewing new voting laws. According to The New York Times, Holder declared that protecting ballot access for all eligible voters “must be viewed not only as a legal issue, but as a moral imperative.” Besides new voter ID laws, Holder also singled out Florida’s new voter laws that limit early voting and voter registration. “Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough — and it will be fair,” he said. In addition to speaking about the new voting laws, Holder also discussed automatic voter registration.
- Law & Order: Officials in Monroe, La. were hit with a lawsuit this week over the city council elections that were moved from March to November 2012. Also in Louisiana, a state district judge ruled that West Feliciana Parish will not need to hold another election after the plaintiffs failed to present enough evident to overturn the original election. A Waukegan, Ill. couple was arrested this week and charged with perjury and mutilation of election materials. A state Superior Court judge ruled against the town of Petersburg, Alaska in its redistricting challenge. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Wisconsin this week over the state’s new voter ID law. A Republican candidate for Elk Township committee, who lost the election by just one vote, is asking a Superior Court judge to review a single ballot after it was twice rejected by the Gloucester County, N.J. board of elections.
- While some counties are no longer required to provide language assistance in American Indian language, Coconino County, Ariz. will have to provide language assistance to Yuma voters for the first time. “There has never been a request for (Yuma),” Coconino County Elections Administrator Patty Hansen told the Cronkite News. “So now we’re trying to find someone who can speak that language.” Coconino County is one of three counties in Arizona now federally required to provide assistance in Yuma, previously only Yuma County had been required to offer the assistance. The Department of Justice has since told Yavapai County that they do not need to provide the assistance and tribal leaders told Mohave officials that no assistance was necessary.
- Primary Problems: With the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, several states are still trying to figure out their primary calendar for 2012. In New York, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe this week said he would issue a ruling in about a month on a federal lawsuit against the state over the MOVE Act. Sharpe said that he did not trust the state legislature to reach an agreement on when to hold the primary since they have already had two years to do so. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to fight the possibility of three primaries as was suggested by some legislators. And in Texas, local elections officials remain in a holding pattern not only over when the primary election may be held, but also whether there will one or two primaries. In addition to being concerned about voter confusion about the primary election(s), local administrators are also concerned about the cost should the state end up with two primaries. And in Ohio, the House approved a compromise bill that will combine the state and presidential primary into one event in March.
- Update: An Indiana judge plans to rule by Dec. 16 whether or not Secretary of State Charlie White must stand trial on voter fraud and other criminal charges. White’s attorney, Carl Brizzi, urged Hamilton County Superior Court Judge Steven Nation to consider findings by the Indiana Recount Commission.
- Personnel News: After just five months on the job, the director of the Lucas County board of elections, Ben Roberts, resigned late last week. According to the Toledo Blade, Roberts blamed an inability to change the “caustic environment” of the office as his reason for resigning. Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Thomas R. “Tommy” Hardee to serve as the new supervisor of elections for Madison County. Hardee is a volunteer firefighter and has a background in insurance. Former pastor Roy Schneider has been named the Garfield County, Okla. election board secretary. In an e-mail to supporters, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown announced that she will seek re-election in 2012. Linda Marcial, director of the Portage County, Ohio board of elections announced this week that she will retire at the end of her term in March 2012. After more than 30 years in the Marion County, Fla. elections office, Elections Supervisor Dee Brown announced that she will not seek re-election in 2012. Brown joined the elections team as a statistician in 1979 and landed the top job in 1986.
Florida: New voting law
Massachusetts: Primary date
New Hampshire: Ranked-choice voting
New Jersey: Voter ID
New York: Voting machines
Oklahoma: Voter ID
Oregon: U.S. Postal Service
Pennsylvania: Voter ID
South Carolina: Voter ID
Tennessee: Voter ID
Wisconsin: Voter ID
**Some sites may require registration.
V. Job Openings
Election Training Coordinator, D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics — coordinates recruitment of polling officials. Maintains and manage the list of potential polling officials received from the voter information postcards, civic groups, volunteers, and related sources. Communicates with potential polling officials and conducts orientation meetings. Assists in the development of an election worker information, education and outreach program as a means of maintaining and monitoring the election work force. Salary: $62,499-$79,959. Application: Visit dchr.dc.gov, click on "Career Opportunities" and search for keyword "election" or apply in person at the D.C. Department of Human Resources Job Center located in the South Lobby at 441 4th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. Deadline: Open until filled.
General Registrar, City of Virginia Beach — seeking a qualified individual to fill an unexpired term ending June 30, 2015 as General Registrar. The appointed incumbent will be required to take and sign the oath of office prescribed in Article II, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia before the Clerk or Deputy Clerk of Court or a Notary (§24.2-120). We are looking for an individual with advanced voter registration experience; experience managing a voter registration office; experience working with electronic poll books; experience working with Microsoft Office programs to include Word, Excel, and Access; supervisory experience; budgeting experience; experience working with a board of directors; public speaking experience; and a college degree in fields such as public administration, business administration, or similar disciplines. Qualifications for this position include any combination of education (above the high school level) and/or experience equivalent to eight (8) years in position(s) providing the knowledge, skills and abilities listed above and associated with such positions as Registrar, Assistant Registrar or voter registration office management; or any equivalent combination of experience and training which provides the required knowledge, skills and abilities. Must be a registered voter in the Commonwealth of Virginia, be or become a City of Virginia Beach resident, have a valid Virginia driver's license and be able to obtain a notary commission. The General Registrar must file the signed oath with the Clerk of Court and a copy of the signed oath must be filed with the secretary of the Electoral Board and with the State Board of Elections (§24.2-120). Salary: $84,476. Application: For more information and to apply, click here. Deadline: Dec. 31.