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electionlineWeekly — July 24, 2014

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I. In Focus This Week

First Person Singular: Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa
Ysursa ends lifelong career in secretary’s office

This year 12 state elections officials will move on, either because of retirement, term limits or seeking higher office.

We’ll do our best to profile all of them in the coming months and we begin with Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.bensml

Ysura was first elected secretary of state in 2002 and has subsequently been re-elected two times. Although he’s been secretary of state for “only” 12 years, he has spent his entire adult career in the secretary of state’s office.

Following his graduation from law school Ysursa joined the secretary’s office as a deputy in 1974. He was promoted to chief deputy in 1976 and served in that role until he ran for the office himself in 2002.

During his tenure, Ysursa has been active in national organizations such as the National Association of Secretaries of State where he served as co-chair of the Company Formation Task Force. He is also on the board of the Organization Assisting The Homeless Student and Idahoans for Openness in Government.

Ysursa is a graduate of Gonzaga University and has his law degree from St. Louis University. He met his wife Penny, who also worked in the secretary of state’s office, in 1974. They have three children and two grandchildren.

You’ve been in the Idaho secretary of state’s office your whole adult life, why did you choose now to hang up your vote tabulator, so-to-speak? 

After 40.5 years in the office (three terms as secretary) it was time. I did not have the “fire in the belly” to go until I was 70. You need “passion” for the job or it is unfair to the citizens.

What would you say has been the biggest change you have seen in elections during your tenure?

Addressing the technology in voter registration, voting machines, and the entire process along with the public’s expectation of instant results. Also post Bush v. Gore put more focus on the role of the secretary of state and the county election officials.

What was the most difficult time/issue you have faced (elections wise of course) as secretary?

As secretary, the 2012 May Primary, which was our first closed primary which also coincided with a new redistricting plan. Precincts were still being drawn in April. As Deputy, it was 1984, where three redistricting plans were in court during the last week of filing. The court extended the filing period one week.

What do feel was your greatest accomplishment and why?

In 1994, I sponsored and led the legislation for election day registration in Idaho. In a Republican dominated legislature the bill passed with one dissenting vote (a Democrat). This was a progressive move for more voter participation in a very “red” state.

Is there anything you still hope to accomplish as secretary before leaving office?

In the election area, to oversee and conduct a mistake-free general election – it will never happen but it is always our goal.

What will you miss most about being secretary of state?

The many relationships with good principled people trying to make a difference by doing their jobs with competence and integrity.

As an expert in the field of elections, where do you see the administration of elections headed?

Administration is headed to more and more technology to make it easier to vote, but we need to have more focus on participation. Turnout is abysmal. After 40 years I’m still looking for the answer to more participation.

What’s next for you, besides being able to sleep in on election days?

Probably some part-time consulting pertaining to state government, and a lot of golf.

Any parting words of advice for your successor?

Never forget who you work for – the people; and that transparent, fair, and efficient elections have no room for partisanship.