Filling Monroe County election supervisor position called “good first step” by League of Women Voters

The upcoming Nov. 7 local elections include just one contested municipal race—for Bloomington city council District 3—plus a referendum question for Monroe County Community School Corporation (MCCSC).

Monroe County election supervisor Ryan Herndon (Aug. 23, 2023)

So they’re not expected to present a big logistical challenge for the county’s election division.

Still, this year’s municipal elections will serve as a kind practice run for the 2024 presidential elections.

In a letter to area elected officials dated Tuesday, Aug. 22, the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County sounded the alarm about staffing for the presidential election cycle.

Looking ahead to 2024, the letter states: “The League of Women Voters is concerned that Monroe County will not be prepared to conduct the primary and general elections with adequate and knowledgeable staff support.”

Two key staff departures this year are the source of the league’s concern. Chief deputy clerk Tressia Martin resigned at the end of July. County election supervisor Karen Wheeler left in early February.

When the league sent the letter, it was not widely known that a new election supervisor had been hired. Ryan Herndon, who has served up to now as a deputy in county clerk Nicole Browne’s office, has been on the job as election supervisor since Aug. 1.

Responding on Wednesday to an emailed B Square question about the league’s letter, Browne relayed the news of a new hire: “I am very proud to oversee elections in Monroe County and, in fact, we do have a new election supervisor in place.”

Browne continued, “Together with our election vendors, seasoned early/absentee workers and the amazing poll workers who honor Monroe County by returning to work elections year after year, as we prepare for 2024, I am confident that Monroe County will continue to have the great elections that our voters have come to know and expect.”

On Thursday, Herndon wrote to The B Square about an expected contrast between the upcoming 2024 and the 2020 presidential elections, which were conducted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Herndon noted that for the 2020 cycle, the number of staff and polling sites were reduced for the primary elections. For the 2020 general election, the biggest and most open polling sites were chosen—like school gymnasiums, school cafeterias and churches, Herndon wrote—to allow for social distancing.

About 2024, Herndon wrote, “As we prepare for the 2024 Presidential elections, unless a new and unforeseeably worse pandemic emerges that calls for sweeping adaptations, Monroe County voters should expect an election experience that mirrors pre-pandemic accommodations for a better-than-expected voter turnout.”

Reacting to the news of Herndon’s hire, League of Women Voters spokesperson Debora (Ralf) Shaw wrote to The B Square: “Even with this good first step, the Election Central staff will have a lot to learn as they pick up the reins from long-term staff who had worked together through many election cycles.”

Shaw added, “The League of Women Voters-Bloomington Monroe County will continue to keep an eye on the situation as we move toward what could well be a contentious election year.”

David Henry, who is Monroe County Democratic Party chair and also serves on the three-member county election board, echoed some of the concerns expressed by the league.

Responding to a B Square question, Henry wrote: “While I am saddened by the recent departures of such eminently qualified staff that have supported our election operations, I have full confidence in the staff that remain to see us through the 2023 municipal election cycle and prepare for what is coming in 2024.”

Henry continued, “I agree with the [LWV] that this presidential election cycle will put even the most experienced counties to the test.”

He added, “I am confident that our county council, board of commissioners, and county clerk’s office will conclude their desk audit of the positions, and develop and approve a budget that will attract the top talent we need to continue the good work that our county election division has accomplished.”

There’s general agreement among county officials that the job of election supervisor is not paid enough. In the 2023 budget, the position is budgeted at a salary of $43,371.

That’s based on a county job classification system that makes the election supervisor a COMOT position. The acronym stands for: computer, office machine operation, technician.

At its June 6 meeting, the county council’s personnel administration committee (PAC) discussed the idea of changing the classification for election supervisor from COMOT to PAT. The second acronym stands for: professional, administrative, technological. One step in that change is to review the job description.

Attending the June 6 PAC meeting in support of a new job description were Tressia Martin, who was still serving as Browne’s chief deputy, and Jessica Brown, who was Karen Wheeler’s immediate successor as election supervisor.

It took three months to fill the election supervisor position left vacant by Wheeler. Brown started as election supervisor in the second week of May, but her last day in that position was about five weeks later, on June 16, which was 10 days after the PAC meeting.

Both Wheeler and Brown transferred to other jobs in county government.

In Wheeler’s case, pay was not the main consideration in her decision to seek a different position. In early February, Wheeler told The B Square that she had been given a choice by county clerk Nicole  Browne—resign or be let go.

That came after a misstep in the reporting of results from the 2022 general election. The initial reports on election night missed more than 6,000 ballots that should have been included in the results at that time.

Martin had been picking up the responsibilities of the election supervisor this year, when there was no one in the position. Her end-of-July resignation came six weeks after the PAC meeting.

Responding to a question from The B Square this week, Martin indicated that one of the factors affecting the timing of her resignation was a difference of opinion between her and Browne about how to treat employees.

Martin also said she and Browne had no difference of opinion about the importance of elections: “We do agree on the fact that Monroe County deserves trustworthy elections.”

At its June 13 meeting, the full county council voted to ask Waggoner, Irwin, and Sheele, Inc. (WIS), the county’s HR consultant, to review the election supervisor position. That is the “desk audit” that Henry mentioned in his statement to The B Square.

Early this week, county attorney Molly Turner-King confirmed to The B Square that the county has not yet received from WIS the final version of the desk audit.

In her statement to The B Square, Browne echoed the sentiment that paying county workers enough to retain them is a big challenge. She wrote: “… Deputy clerks throughout the state are leaving county government roles to take positions at Walmart or fast-food chain restaurants because those establishments currently pay more than county government positions pay.”

Browne also indicated that the clerk’s office competes with other county departments for employees. She describes that competition as “the regular and ongoing poaching of clerk employees that occurs from other county offices.”

As elected county clerk, Browne serves on the three-member county election board. But under state law, it’s the clerk, not the election board, that oversees election staff.

There is a provision in state law that allows for an election board to assume responsibility for hiring election staff, if it has unanimous support.

September’s meeting of the Monroe County election board will likely include a review of the preparations for the Nov. 7 election, including the schedule for ballot printing and election equipment testing, and plans for recruiting and training poll workers.

At its September meeting, the  board could also get an update on some legal action.  Would-be independent mayoral candidate Joe Davis told The B Square on Thursday, he would be filing a lawsuit later the same day. The goal of Davis’s legal action is to be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot as a Bloomington mayoral candidate who is unaffiliated with any party.

Davis fell 14 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot as as independent candidate, but contends that some of the signatures he submitted were disqualified, when they should have been counted. He needed 352 signatures to be placed on the ballot. The election board denied the challenge that Davis brought in mid-July.

Serving with Henry and Browne on the county election board is the Monroe County Republican Party’s appointee, Judith Benckart.

The board’s next meeting is set for Thursday, Sept. 7.

4 thoughts on “Filling Monroe County election supervisor position called “good first step” by League of Women Voters

  1. There was an election supervisor after Wheeler, she only lasted about a week. And other departments don’t poach from the clerk’s office. Employees from the clerk’s office RUN when they get the chance. Much has been said about the health department in the news but no one seems to want to cover the fact that it is the clerk’s office that is extremely short handed because of the terrible leadership and conditions in that office. Employees leave the clerk’s office to work in the health department!

  2. This office is a mess and a new clerk can’t come fast enough. 2 replacements after Wheeler that each lasted about a week. New guy with no experience and is hired as the interim supervisor. Is the next election going to be a big flop? It is not limited to only city sites now that the mccsc referendum is on the ballot, right?

    1. In the past the Chief Deputy has been a big part of the election operations, and really had been the election supervisor for many Clerk’s. So both the past election supervisor and the Chief Deputy are no longer there to provide oversight in a Presidential election year. I wish Mr. Herndon the very best, he will need to study and gear up to meet the heavy demands of this department. I have not heard who the new Chief Deputy is now that the other one left due to disagreeing with the Clerk on how employees should be treated.

      1. Marty, The job is still open if you are interested. LOL In fact there are a lot of open positions in that department. Since they have gone so long without filling them, maybe the council should consider removing some positions from that offices budget. If they are getting the job done with less people it is obvious that they don’t need that many people.

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