|Enslen says county may face election crisis|
|Written by News Desk|
|Thursday, 08 August 2013 11:53|
Probate Judge John Enslen (pictured) says an election disaster could be looming for Elmore County.
By SARAH STEPHENS
Probate Judge John Enslen says an election disaster could be looming for Elmore County because a special election to replace Rep. Barry Mask is likely and no one in Enslen's office is capable to oversee such an election. Enslen is expected to go before the Elmore County Commission on Monday, August 12 to ask for additional funding to hire an expert.
Cyndi Mann served the county as Election Specialist for more than 30 years, first as an employee and later under a contract with the Elmore County Commission. Until she resigned in April, Mann supervised and organized the county's elections including oversight of the polling places, ballots, voter lists and poll workers. Mann resigned in April, she says, at Enslen's request.
Commission Chairman Joe Faulk said he and Commissioner Mark Hragyil spoke with Enslen after Mann resigned about who would oversee the special elec tion if Mask steps down.
"Judge Enslen indicated to us that he was capable of handling the special election with his existing staff," Faulk said.
Enslen said that he regrets Mann's departure, but insists she stepped down for personal reasons. Enslen told the commission that overall he feels Mann did a good job as an employee, but pointedly told the commission she did not fulfill all of her duties under her contract.
"Overall Cyndi did a fine job for 30 years, most of which time she was an employee. But she has resigned and that was her personal decision to make and we wish her well. Unfortunately, she resigned without having ever trained a replacement as expressly required by her written contract; a fear that prior county commissioners had."
Enslen addressed the Elmore County Commission July 22, sharing many concerns about Mann's former position going unfilled, especially in light of Rep. Barry Mask's expected resignation, which will force a special election.
Mask represents (District 31) Coosa County and a large portion of Elmore County in the Alabama House of Representatives
"Upon Mask's official resignation, the governor will set a date for a special election to be held in Elmore and Coosa Counties, probably beginning in late 2013 or early 2014," Enslen told the commission members. "Assuming sufficient candidates file to run, there will be a primary election, a primary run-off election, and a general election. The person elected will serve the final year of Mask's term-the calendar year 2014. In that final year, there will be the regular session of the legislature in the first half of 2014 and any special sessions that might be called later in the year," Enslen said.
Shortly thereafter, will be the normal 2014 election cycle beginning in June. The person elected in this regular election cycle as the representative for House District 31 will serve from 2015-2018. Enslen said, for all practical purposes, the candidates running for office in the special election will be running at the same time for the same position to be decided in the immediately following regular election.
One thing that will not be the same is the district boundaries. Any special election will use the same district lines as Mask used when he ran for his current office in 2010. Reapportionment after the 2010 census created vast differences between the boundaries of the current House District 31 that will be involved in the special election as compared with the new House District 31 that will be involved in next year's regular election. For instance, the new House District 31 will not include any part of Coosa County.
The current district covers all of Coosa County. The new district will incorporate for the first time the northeast corner of Autauga County and a much larger portion of west Elmore County, especially the City of Millbrook and the Deatsville areas.
Enslen explained that following the special election, affected voters will need to be immediately switched to their new district and thus receive a ballot style in the regular election, which is correct for their new district.
The voting-district changes involved include not only House District 31, but all of the various political offices that were redistricted, including the Board of Education.
But the problems associated with the voter location changes on House District 31 are much more acute due to the timing of the special election.
Under Alabama law the probate judge is the Election Official for local (non-Statewide, non-municipal) elections. Enslen said between the formation of the county in 1866 and about the year 2000, elections in Elmore County and every other county in the state were handled by the probate judge as chief elections officer. The judge would use one or more employees to help him with the work.
"About the year 2000, when I was county attorney, Judge Stubbs came to the commission and requested the commission to enter into an independent contract with Cyndi Mann who was retiring," Enslen said. "She was getting full retirement and was limited in the amount of money she could make. I drafted her first contract. It was a stop-gap measure to avoid a crisis because Judge Stubbs had no one else who could do the work. The commission agreed with his request.
Enslen said he is not trying to say that having Mann as an independent contractor was a mistake at that time, but he now finds himself in the same position. He does not want to solve it the same way, but would rather have an Election Specialist who is an employee that he can manage and supervise.
Enslen provided commission members with a job description containing 23 items for which the Election Specialist would be responsible. He specifically pointed out five items that he says Mann never did as part of her contract. 1. Have employee assist Board of Registrars with work as needed, as they are overworked. Enslen said that Mann was paid separately by the probate office to assist, in additionto the pay she received as an independent contractor. 2. Have employee maintain new list of poll workers, including younger people who can become involved in the electoral process. The average age our current poll workers is over 70 and some are in their 90s. "They have done an outstanding job, but it is time for some of them to be retired and younger people included," Enslen said. "In February, I came to the county commission and asked you to provide some funds to pay Cyndi for helping with developing a new poll workers list. You denied the request, pointing out that she was already responsible for doing that under her contract. You were exactly right, but it still did not get us a new poll workers list," he said. 3. Employee should organize a better mapping system for our various voting districts and precincts. Enslen said currently there is a hodge-podge of maps in a pile in the Board of Registrars Office. "I would like for citizens to be able to come here and find the maps they want to see," he said. 4. Enslen wants the employee to be able to provide political candidates with the information they need to qualify for running, for completing economic interest reports with the Alabama Ethics Commission, and completing their campaign finance reports. "These laws are complicated and it is not right for candidates to be disqualified on pure technicalities, something that is already happening in our state," Enslen said. 5. The employee should be responsible for maintaining and keeping current our elections website. "I foresee that in the near future, we will be able to publish our voters list on this website and save the county tens of thousands of dollars that are presently being spent on newspaper publications," he said.
Enslen said he does not foresee the Election Specialist having any spare time on their hands, but in case they do there is plenty of work to do in the probate office right now that is not getting done. "For instance, we need a process server for our guardianship and conservatorship proceedings; we need a bailiff for our probate court proceedings which take place in the conference room behind you. We have people to interrupt adoption proceedings which are supposed to be private and confidential. We have 100 years worth of documents in the probate office that still need scanning. In addition, the county needs to convert from paper to a digitized format so that they can be made available to the public. Someone is needed to inventory our tags on a regular basis. A lot of tags went missing during Judge Stubbs' administration and that presents a problem for the auditors," according to Enslen.
Enslen made a request on July 22 to hire a new employee to fill the need for an election specialist, according to Faulk. The request was tabled and is expected to be on the commission's agenda for August 12, 2013. Faulk said the total cost including salary and benefits would be nearly $50,000. Mann's contract was approximately $18,000 per year according to Faulk and Enslen.
Enslen said it is his opinion that the Election Specialist needs to be a supervised employee who has fixed hours, who receives assignments, reports back with accountability, and doesn't feel their job is over just because an election has been completed. That is the way it is done in the other counties which have an Election Specialist, instead of allowing the Election Specialist to be an independent contractor who comes and goes at will and has little direct accountability for their efforts. It would also limit the Election Specialist becoming occupied with other contracts he or she might enter into with the municipalities in our county, he said.
There are 14 counties that have an Election Specialist by that name. One of those is Autauga County which has far fewer voters than does Elmore County. All other counties have an employee, whether they call them an Election Specialist or not, who does the work of an Election Specialist.
Enslen said he believes a major election disaster is possible if the position is not filled immediately. He proposed the position require either an undergraduate college degree or six years experience managing elections.
"If there were someone on my office staff that I could promote to this position, that is what I would be asking. But my employees are already overworked," he said.
He would like to see the position filled by Sept. 1 of this year, which would require payment for only one month under the current budget year. He has already asked for an Election Specialist in the 2014 budget.
"Obviously, I will respect and abide by your decision, but I can't see why the commission would want to assume a greater responsibility for the conduct of elections than the statutes confer upon it," Enslen said.
Editor's note: Brian Hodge contributed to this report.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 22 August 2013 10:05|
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