First Person Singular: Larry Lomax
Is that a full-time job? A question I am repeatedly asked
Clark County, Nev. Clerk (retiring)
1997: “All you have to do is put on two elections a year. How hard can that be?” As a 30-year retiring Air Force colonel, I am joking with some fellow instructors at the Air War College as I prepare to leave for my new “civilian” job as the assistant registrar in Clark County, Nevada. I am headed to Las Vegas, cocky, confident and totally unprepared.
Over the next 15 years, I’ll eat those words many times.
1998: My first day at work, I am told I am in charge of voter registration and training poll-workers. I have never been to a polling place in my life. In the military, I always voted absentee.
1998: I am still the Assistant and it is my first election. I am in charge of the “hot line” room. There are six of us and the individuals in charge of each polling place (team leaders) are supposed to call us if they have questions or problems. They all have a problem. The envelope in which the voting receipts are supposed to be retained has been left out of their supplies. This should be a minor issue, but the phones are jammed until 10:00 as 250 polling places try to reach the six of us. We tell those that get through to find something else to put the receipts in. Few of the team leaders seem to figure this out for themselves. Others with serious problems cannot get through.
1999: I am now the Registrar and we are conducting the municipal primary elections for the five cities in Clark County. These are the first elections for which I am responsible. By now I have learned the value of my military experience. In the military you recruit, you plan, you train and you prepare to go to war. In this job you recruit, you plan, you train and you prepare for Election Day. “War” and “Election Day” are interchangeable.
2000: A customer calls and wants to know where the voter files he paid for are. We have no record of his order. We investigate and discover the employee responsible for filling requests for voter data has set up a sham company called Clark County Elections. He has told customers to deal directly with him for “faster service.” They write their checks to his company and mail the checks to his post office box. The customers think they are dealing with us. He is arrested. We put our voter data base online so future customers can download it at no cost.
2001: I am in a county commissioner’s office being pressured to help a friend of the commissioner get elected. The request is clearly unethical. I do not agree to comply and the commissioner responds with threats and profanity. My boss backs me up and also receives a verbal whipping. We stand our ground. Surprisingly, contrary to the commissioner’s promise, we keep our jobs.
2002: In the November general election, every jurisdiction has at least 53 contests and 15 questions on the ballot. Some have more. We test voters before the election and no one finishes voting in less than 8 minutes. Most take 10-12 minutes. Voters who have not read the questions take much longer. We launch a campaign to encourage voters to show up prepared. TV stations work with us and film their reporters voting test ballots while we time them. They encourage voters to study and mark their sample ballots ahead of time to speed things up. It works. During early voting and on Election Day, voters brag to us about how fast they can vote. We have lines, but they are not unreasonable and voters understand why we have them.
2003: I am repeatedly getting hammered by people who don’t trust electronic voting machines without a paper trail. These folks repeatedly begin their arguments with the words “Nothing is more important than my right to vote…” and believe they can follow that lead-in with whatever asinine comments they have to offer and everyone is supposed to accept them because nothing is more important than their right to vote. I am spending way too much of my time defending our voting equipment.
2004: Nevada is the first state to use a paper trail printer with electronic voting machines. Nevada is also a “battle ground” or “swing” state and this is a presidential election. Since Clark County has 72 percent of the state’s population and our office is in Las Vegas, we are the center of attention. Observers and media flock to Las Vegas. I am a tour guide. Throughout 14 days of early voting and on Election Day, I give tours, demonstrations and interviews. I am very fortunate to have a competent staff to put on the election.
2005: Since we use electronic voting machines, we station emergency generators at various locations in the county. The generators are pre-loaded into the back of a county vehicle and ready to deploy. A school experiences a power failure and we direct the “rover” in that area to go to the designated location and to bring the generator to the school. I pick up a couple of individuals and head to the school to assist the rover when he arrives with the generator. The rover arrives and we unload the generator. Then we discover no one has the key to start it.
2006: During the early voting period, at malls, libraries and community centers, we hire security guards to watch our voting machines throughout the night. Each early voting team must remain at its site until a guard has arrived and is in place. The County has awarded the contract to the lowest bidder. The first night of the early voting period, the Assistant Registrar receives calls from teams complaining no guards have arrived. She calls the security firm and no one answers. She drives to the firm’s office. The door is locked but through the glass door she sees the manager. She beats on the door and yells at the manager who sees her but cowers behind his desk. She doesn’t give up and at last he opens the door. The lowest bidder has been unable to hire guards at the wages he is offering.
2007: Four of the seven commissioners who were in office when I was hired are now serving terms in federal prisons.
2008: Once more, Nevada is a “battle ground” or “swing” state. About 2,000 poll-watchers, primarily attorneys from California, have shown up to observe the election. This influx of poll-watchers has not happened before. Most are complementary of our process, but some are very rude and noncompliant. On Election Day, several of our team leaders are reduced to tears as they attempt to maintain control. All the voting machines and printers work as they should. For the first time since I became Registrar I do not hear from the critics of electronic voting. It appears the paper trail printers silenced them.
2009: A car takes out a transformer and we lose power at another school. Keys now hang on every deployed generator. We send a rover to the County vehicle yard where the nearest emergency generator is located. He gets in the van and drives it to the school where we have gone to meet him. We open the back of the van to unload the generator and it is empty. He brought the wrong van.
2010: Out-of-state poll-watchers are back. Our election is receiving national attention because the U.S. Senate majority leader is on the ballot. During early voting, a lady calls a TV station and claims her voting machine preselected the Senate majority leader before she began voting. She states the same thing happened to her husband and then to everyone else in the polling place. The TV station runs with the story. We check with the poll workers and observers who were at the polling place throughout the day and everyone reports there were no voting issues that day. Nevertheless, the seed has been planted. Throughout the rest of early voting and on Election Day, eight more people call and claim it happened to them. Although the Senate majority leader wins the county by more than 60,000 votes, the losing candidate claims the election was stolen from her.
2011: We have a tie in the primary election. Neither candidate asks for a recount, so the winner is decided by cutting cards. In the general election, a city councilmember contest is decided by one vote. When we audit the election, we find one voter who did not live in the district was improperly allowed to vote. We tell the mayor what we found and the city council decides to revote the one precinct where the mistake was made. The winner doesn’t like that, goes to court and a judge says no revote. The judge mentions the possibility of asking the individual how he voted. Nobody likes that idea. The winner is eventually seated.
2012: Considering it was a presidential election, it went really well. Good one to retire after. Over 436,000 people voted at our early voting sites. That is almost ten times the 46,000 that voted early in the 1996 presidential election. We’ve come a long way.
2013: Today, as I write this, nothing is the same as it was when I arrived 15 years ago. That is a good thing. We have different voting equipment, a different election management system and we are housed in a different facility which was specifically designed for the Election Department. The number of registered voters has more than doubled to over one million. Everyone in the department is 15 years older. Everything I mentioned above really happened…and a whole lot more
Throughout the last 15 years, our philosophy has always been to focus on one question, “How can we make things better?” This has been the key to whatever success we have had and a question we repeatedly ask each other throughout the year.
Every election we ask each team leader to critique and comment on how we could improve all aspects of the election (polling locations, voting equipment, supplies, workers, training, support, etc). The critiques and comments are consolidated and reviewed with each of the divisions in the department.
We cover what went well, what didn’t, how problems could have been avoided, and most importantly, we discuss how we could make things better. Every issue is addressed. When anyone submits an idea we decide to implement, we notify and give credit to the individual so everyone will know we listen to what they say.
We have done this for 15 years and every year we have come up with new and better ways to get the job done. While there is no such thing as election perfection, our constant focus on improving what we do and how we do it has unquestionably moved us closer to the target.
Best of luck to all who read this and here are two things to remember:
1. Never accept the status quo. Things can always be made better. Your job is to figure out how.
2. It doesn’t matter who wins. It matters that they win by a lot.
Ed. Note: After more than 14 years of running elections in Clark County, Nev. Harvard “Larry” Lomax will officially retire effective June 14. But just because he’s retiring, doesn’t mean Lomax has given up on elections. He was recently appointed to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.
IV. Legislative Update
Arizona: With the legislative session creeping to an end, lawmakers advanced a presumed-dead omnibus election bill that would trim the state’s permanent early voting list and limit who can return mail ballots for voters.
Nevada: As anticipated, Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed legislation (AB440) that would have extended the state’s voter registration deadline to the Friday before an election. The deadline will remain three weeks prior to an election.
New Hampshire: The Senate is appointing negotiators to a committee conference in order to hammer out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the state’s voter ID legislation. The Senate has agreed it will negotiate on the legislation.
New Jersey: A bill (A-1548) that would give school districts the option of holding or canceling classes on election day is advancing. Under the legislation, if schools opt to stay open during an election, the local school board is required to establish a written security plan and safety guidelines.
New York: The New York City Council has introduced a bill that would eliminate runoff elections and replace them an instant runoff voting system.
Pennsylvania: The Senate State Government Committee approved Senate Bill 976 that would require the creation of an online system where military and overseas voters could return absentee ballots electronically.
South Carolina: In response to long lines that many voters in Richland County were faced with in November 2012, the General Assembly approved legislation that would create 25 new precincts in varying locations around the county. Some locations will simply be split into two or three precincts within the same location while others will require a new location altogether.
Wisconsin: In a rare moment of compromise, Republican and Democrat members of an Assembly committee approved election legislation that would allow for online voter registration. The committee also dropped provisions in the bill such as voter ID, banning in-person absentee voting on the weekends and limiting recall elections. The Assembly approved the legislation, but it’s future in the Senate is uncertain.
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Director of Elections, Craven County, N.C. — Plans and supervises daily operations, ensuring accuracy and efficiency in voter registration. Receives, reviews and approves registration applications. Processes completed registrations in master file, precinct file and precinct registration book. Supervises and assigns work to subordinate office personnel and ensures accuracy and efficiency. Receives candidates' registration for county offices and others designated by the State Board of Elections [SBE]. Sends requested absentee ballots, submits applications for Board approval, and mails ballots for all approved applications. Maintains current registration files; maintains timetable of Board duties; notifies Board members of all deadlines and meetings. Prepares all reports required by the SBE according to General Statutes. Maintains current statistics of all registered voters by precinct and party affiliation. Contacts news media and publicizes voter registration laws. Supervises and instructs precinct Judges in preparation for elections. Prepares all voting equipment and supervises the storage, maintenance and delivery of such to the polls. Prepares budget proposal for Board approval. Monitors expenditures and administers approved budget. Interviews and recommends personnel to Board of Elections on new hires and terminations. Performs various related functions in connection with the administration of State and County Election laws and regulations. Qualifications: Graduation from high school supplemented by college-level course work in management, business or a related field and three to five years of experience in office management involving public contact, preferably in a Board of Elections office. Graduation from a four-year college or university preferred. Applicants must have certification from the State Board of Elections, or the ability to obtain within three years of employment. Thorough knowledge of electoral procedures and policies as set forth in general statues and regulations of the State Board of Elections is preferred. Computer skills and the ability to use general office equipment are required. Deadline: July 3, 2013. Application: Please submit letter and resume to: Employment Security Commission, 2836 Neuse Blvd., New Bern, N.C. 28560 or click here.
Elections Administrator, Coconino County (Flagstaff), Ariz. — performs work of considerable difficulty in the management, planning, coordination and administration of elections for state and county mandated elections and by contract with other political jurisdictions in the County. Manages the planning, direction, development, implementation, administration and evaluation of all office and field operations related to poll worker recruitment and training, voter education and outreach, election mapping, election systems, campaign finance, nomination, recall, initiative and referendum processes, ballot preparation and tabulation, elections services, and elections logistics; develops and writes procedures to conduct elections and ensure compliance in accordance with federal and state law, the Arizona Secretary of State's Procedures Manual, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and any other applicable; oversees programming of election management software; researches and analyzes issues, legislation and decisions as they relate to the election process; prepares and manages division budget and provides input and direction into departmental action plan and goals; directs the development of training curricula and the conduct of training of election workers at the polling places on election day; coordinates with state, cities, towns and special districts the timely election results for official canvass for all elections conducted by the County; researches administrative, programmatic and technical problems in the County election processes and develops timely solutions to the problems encountered. Minimum Qualifications: Bachelor's Degree in Political Science or related field and four years of progressively responsible governmental management experience including two years in administration of elections; OR, any combination of education, training and experience which demonstrates the ability to perform the duties of the position. Ideal candidate will have 4 or more years experience doing direct supervision of election personnel involved in all aspects of elections; have a thorough knowledge of federal and state laws and procedures governing election conduct and administration; knowledge of theory, principles, practices and techniques of election management; and thorough knowledge of voting equipment and effective procedures for their use. Salary: $54,809-$78,282. Deadline: June 21, 5pm. Application: For the complete job posting and apply, click here.
Election Programmer, Jefferson County, Texas — codes each election as prescribed by The Texas Election Code in compliance with the federal, state, county, political subdivisions and political party requirements. Coordinate and code all ballot information including precinct, office, candidate, and polling location data; and provide English, Spanish and audio coding; coordinate the accuracy of the paper and iVotronic ballot; responsible for loading election data on Ivotronic touchscreens, Personal Electronic Ballots, and flash cards; responsible for performing operational testing; responsible for overseeing the logic and accuracy testing of ballots; responsible for the printing or outsourcing of paper ballots; program and make ready all EA tablets which contains the voter registration database; create and maintain election equipment inventory database; must assist field technicians during early voting and help desk representative to technicians on Election Day; responsible for backing up all audit data and election files; report election results to Secretary of State of Texas. Minimum Qualifications: Education and experience equivalent to an Associate’s degree from an accredited college or university in computer science, electronics or in a job related field of study. One (1) year of work related experience. Experience in election programming preferred. Must possess a valid Texas Driver’s License with a good driving record. Experience with computer programming, Access database management, electronics, hand tools and skilled in the use of standard software applications. Restrictions exist on the ability to be a candidate for a public office or an office of a political party, hold a public office, or hold an office of or position in a political party. Special rules apply to political contributions. Salary: $43,094-$58,858. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Senior Associate, Elections Initiatives, Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C. — the Trusts is seeking to hire a senior associate to work on the Upgrading Voter Registration (UVR) initiative and report to the UVR project manager, Election Initiatives. The senior associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, assisting with implementation of UVR’s state assistance strategies, tracking legislation, conducting outreach to states and partners, and supporting the entire spectrum of activity under the project, including interaction with the other election initiatives, research, communications, and both state and national campaigns. The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, D.C. office. It is expected that this position is for a term period through December 31, 2015, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Requirements: Minimum of five years professional experience in public policy arena; working knowledge of issues around state voter registration systems and election administration preferred; Bachelor’s degree required; Masters or other advanced degree in a relevant area preferred; experience convening groups of policy makers, practitioners, stakeholders, researchers and other constituencies, and supporting their efforts to develop consensus and move toward a desired outcome. Acute political awareness and non-partisan perspective and approach; experience working with complex policy and political issues, and developing sophisticated communications and government relations strategies; demonstrated strong analytical skills applied to public policy issues, including an ability to synthesize and summarize large amounts of information and to focus quickly on the essence of an issue; ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and concepts clearly and concisely and in a compelling way, both in writing and orally and to multiple audiences including policy makers, the media, and public. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Senior Associate, Elections Initiatives, Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C. - The Trusts is seeking to hire a senior associate to perform research and analysis across all of the Election Initiatives work; including, Upgrading Voter Registration, the Voting Information Project, and the Elections Performance Index. Reporting to the research manager, the senior associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, such as conducting research and writing related to all the team’s projects. The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, D.C. office. It is expected that this position is for a term period through December 31, 2015, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Requirements: Minimum five years of professional experience in public policy research; working knowledge of issues related election administration preferred; Bachelor’s degree required; advanced degree in a relevant area preferred; Demonstrated strong analytical, qualitative, and quantitative skills applied to public policy issues, including an ability to synthesize and summarize large amounts of information and to focus quickly on the essence of an issue. Familiarity with statistical analysis software (e.g. SPSS, Stata, SAS) preferred; Strong writing and communications skills are essential.; Experience working with public or election officials, academics, and other relevant stakeholders preferred; Acute political awareness and non-partisan perspective and approach; Ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and concepts clearly and concisely and in a compelling way, both in writing and orally and to multiple audiences including policy makers, the media, and public. A clear, effective writing and presentation style; Demonstrated time- and project-management skills, including an ability to meet multiple deadlines by maintaining a high level of organization. Ability to think strategically and creatively, adjust to changing circumstances, organize time, remain attentive to details and identify resources for projects. Ability to establish a systematic course of action to ensure project completion; Ability to fit into the creative, fast-paced and highly professional corporate culture of the Trusts, which emphasizes excellence, collegiality and teamwork. Deadline: Open until filled. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.
Senior Associate, Elections Initiatives, Pew Charitable Trusts, Washington, D.C. - The Trusts is seeking to hire a senior associate to work on the Voting Information Project (VIP) initiative and report to the VIP project manager, Election Initiatives. The senior associate will be expected to contribute at multiple levels, such as assisting with implementation of VIP’s state assistance strategies, conducting outreach to states and partners. The position will be based in Pew’s Washington, D.C. office. It is expected that this position is for a term period through December 31, 2015, with the possibility of an extension pending the success of the program, funding sources and board decisions on continued support. Requirements: Minimum five years of professional experience in public policy arena. Working knowledge of issues around election administration preferred; Undergraduate degree required; Masters or other advanced degree in a relevant area preferred; Experience convening groups of policy makers, practitioners, stakeholders, researchers and other constituencies, and supporting their efforts to develop consensus and move toward a desired outcome. Acute political awareness and non-partisan perspective and approach; Experience working with complex policy and political issues, and developing sophisticated communications and government relations strategies; Ability to understand and explain technological concepts, such as APIs and XML. Familiarity with elections technology, open data and data standardization preferred; Demonstrated strong analytical skills applied to public policy issues, including an ability to synthesize and summarize large amounts of information and to focus quickly on the essence of an issue; Ability to communicate ideas, thoughts and concepts clearly and concisely and in a compelling way, both in writing and orally and to multiple audiences including policy makers, the media, and public. A clear, effective writing and presentation style; Demonstrated time- and project-management skills, including an ability to meet multiple deadlines by maintaining a high level of organization. Ability to think strategically and creatively, adjust to changing circumstances, organize time, remain attentive to details and identify resources for projects. Ability to establish a systematic course of action to ensure project completion; Ability to fit into the creative, fast-paced and highly professional corporate culture of the Trusts, which emphasizes excellence, collegiality and teamwork. Application: For the complete job posting and to apply, click here.