Cuyahoga County’s Jane Platten bids farewell
Director credited with turning around troublesome jurisdiction
Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s elections chief Jane Platten hasn’t been around as long as some of her peers in the elections world, but she certainly has faced her share of ups and downs.
And it is the fact that there were far more ups than downs that it came as a surprise when she announced her resignation in late November.
In 2007, Platten became the county’s fourth elections director in seven years after the county suffered a series of disastrous elections and was put under administrative oversight by the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
Under her tenure, Platten replaced the troublesome Diebold DRE voting machines with precinct-based optical scan machines, reduced the number of precincts which saved the county money and conducted several trouble-free elections with elections results coming in before midnight.
“As a board, and under her … leadership, we’ve made leaps and bounds,” Election Board Chairman Jeff Hastings told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I think we’ve been one of the premier boards in the country in terms of conducting elections, in large measure because of her leadership.”
It’s not just elections officials who will miss Platten. The Cleveland Plain Dealer opined that the county board of elections will have some big shoes to fill.
Norman Robbins, research director for Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates also wrote in an op-ed that, “It is Platten's unusual capacity to recognize criticism as a challenge for improvement rather than as a form of undesirable antagonism.”
Platten’s last day in the office is Friday, the 14th, but before that, she took some time to reflect on her elections tenure and look ahead to how she sees the future of elections.
After five years running elections in Cuyahoga County, you'll be moving on this week. Why are leaving, where are you going and was it a hard decision to make to leave the field of elections?
I have accepted a position as Chief of Staff in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office. Leaving the elections world is bittersweet because I do love this business and I love the election process, but I am moving into a very interesting field. It's time to move on and grow and broaden my professional experience.
You stepped into a bit of an elections mess when you were hired in Cuyahoga County, what was the most difficult time/issue you faced during your tenure?
I started as Director in early 2007 after at least three very tumultuous years at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
There was the disastrous roll out of electronic voting equipment in May 2006, the agency was still reeling from criminal convictions stemming from the 2004 recount, employee morale had bottomed out and 70 days before the Presidential Primary, the Secretary of State at the time declared that Cuyahoga County needed to move to a new paper based voting system.
I had a two track task on my hands which was reorganize and revamp the agency structure back to health and implement a new voting system and develop from scratch new processes and procedures while also preparing for a Presidential election.
What do you feel were your greatest accomplishments and why?
Watching the life come back to the agency and lights go on in employees eyes again is what I am most proud of during my time as Director. We took a very beaten down and broken agency and turned it around.
When I first became Director, I would tell people that the CCBOE would one day be a national leader in election administration and I would get snickers or even outright laughing in response. Here we are today in 2012 and the CCBOE is truly a model for best practices that is looked to by other boards across the country.
Are there things that you weren't able to accomplish in Cuyahoga's elections that you wish you could have?
There are always things we can do better and learn from after each election. But, my task and the reason I took the job was to turn the agency around and fix the brokeness of the process. We accomplished those goals and that is why now is a good time for me to move on to my next challenge.
What will you miss most about working in Cuyahoga's elections department and in the field of elections in general?
I love and will miss being in a position of offering a service that allows a person to exercise a most fundamental and treasured right which is the right to vote. I will miss the excitement of election day and watching the motions of what is a huge, multi-faceted process.
Elections are filled with crazy and amazing stories (spiders breaking voting machines, women in labor voting, etc.) what's the craziest thing that ever happened to you while running the elections in Cuyahoga?
In November 2011, I received a call in the middle of the afternoon on what had been up to that point a relatively quiet general election day and was told that one of my poll workers had bitten the nose of a voter. After asking in disbelief multiple times if I had heard the report correctly, I learned that one of our poll workers had gotten into an argument with a campaigner and a voter. After a few minutes of escalated arguing, the worker bit the voter's nose. It was by far the craziest moment I can recall.
As someone who has intimate knowledge of elections, where do you see the administration of elections going in this country and what would you like to see?
I hope that elections become more uniform in process across the country. If one county or state conducts elections differently than any other and a ballot is treated differently elsewhere, then fairness in election administration will always have room for doubt. A person's absentee ballot may not count in Ohio if a voter does not print their name on their envelope, but in another state that may not be a fatal flaw and the ballot will count. Election laws should be consistent across the board to protect voters.
Post election auditing is on my wish list of also. I'd like to see uniform requirements for counties and states to conduct post election audits after every election.
I also hope to see more access to early voting across the nation and allow voters as much access to the ballot as possible within a reasonable timeframe. We live in a world of convenience in every other facet in our lives, but when it comes to voting convenience, I've seen too many recent attempts in too many counties and states to cut back on offering more opportunities for voting.