After messy election, York County hires sports administrator as voting czar

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Steve Ulrich, York County's new director of elections and voter registration, told reporters Friday that he'll be leaning heavily on the office staff to guide him through his first election on Jan. 14.

"Three days, 72 hours, isn’t going to be enough time for me to get ready, obviously, with the special election," he said Friday, Jan. 10, his first day on the job. "But it’ll be a chance for me to learn."

Voters in 19 precincts in York County will go to the polls Tuesday to fill the vacant seat in the state's 48th Senate District.

Ulrich worked in collegiate athletics administration for more than 25 years as the director of an NCAA Division III conference before taking the elections job with York County.

Ulrich has no experience working in elections. And he admitted Friday that he's not familiar with state election law.

"Once again, I’m going to be leaning on the staff to help me learn what I need to learn right away, jumping in with both feet and ready to go," he said. 

But leading the athletic conference required the same organizational skills and leadership that the elections director job will demand, said county spokesman Mark Walters.

As the director of the Centennial Conference, Ulrich said, he coordinated tournaments and oversaw teams from 11 schools competing in 24 sports under more than 260 coaches.

He said the job was about bringing together people who had different ideas about the direction in which they wanted their schools and institutions to move.

"That’s kind of how I look at this as well, is bringing everyone together, understanding how we can all succeed if we work together," he said.

Ulrich lives in Lancaster County and said his home county already uses paper ballot scanners, so he has experience from the voter's perspective about York County's new machines.

Walters said that as a point of reference, Assistant Director Sally Kohlbus oversaw several elections when former director Nikki Suchanic was out on maternity leave, so there isn't a shortage of knowledgeable leaders in the department.

"The staff here is absolutely equipped and qualified to handle that," Walters said.

The previous York County Board of Commissioners hired Ulrich before the start of the new term, Walters said.

Ulrich's starting salary is $64,092.

Suchanic announced her resignation in November, citing personal reasons. Her last day was Jan. 3.

County officials named Ulrich as Suchanic's successor Friday after teasing the announcement for a week. 

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Newly hired Elections Director Steve Ulrich at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

One of Ulrich's biggest challenges will be to ensure the April 28 presidential primary and the Nov. 3 general election aren't marred by the same issues that plagued the Nov. 5 municipal election last year, when the county introduced its new paper ballot voting machines.

Those issues included long wait times at some polling places and the wrong-sized paper ballots at others. Some voters also had trouble figuring out how to use the new machines.

When reporters asked Ulrich what he intends to recommend to avoid a repeat of the recent election and make sure the presidential primary runs more smoothly, he said he'll need to sit down with the county commissioners and others on the county's elections task force to hear what they think is most important.

"For me to go in five hours into day one and pronounce that 'This is what we’re going to do' would be much too forward for me," he said.

Purchasing more voting machines will be part of the discussion with the task force, he said.

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Ulrich also said York County needs to do more outreach on social media to make sure younger voters know where and how to vote.

"York County has heard, seen and is challenged by the situation that occurred, and we need you to place your trust in us," he said. "And I’m asking for the trust in me as the brand-new director, to allow me to show you that we’re going to be able to improve things and make things better for the county."

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