York County GOP: New elections director needs to be fired

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

York County's new director of elections and voter registration should be fired because of his alleged liberal bias and lack of election experience, the York County Republican Committee said Monday.

The committee in a Monday, Jan. 13, statement, called for Steve Ulrich, who has no experience in elections, to be fired before the April 28 presidential primary election. The release included screenshots that the committee said show the new director is too partisan.

"It's the aggressiveness of his liberal bias that has really made me doubt that he can preside over a fair election," said Jeff Piccola, the county GOP committee chairman, on Tuesday, the day of a special election to replace former state Sen. Mike Folmer.

Ulrich assumed the elections post Friday. 

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

A February Facebook post from Steve Ulrich, the county's new director of its Office of Elections and Voter Registration.

In recent Facebook posts, Ulrich has been critical of President Donald Trump and supported Democratic policies.

Ulrich did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

County Commissioner Doug Hoke — a Democrat and the only remaining commissioner on the board that approved Ulrich's hiring — declined to comment. Commissioners Julie Wheeler and Ron Smith, the two new Republicans on the county board, did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Chad Baker, chairman of the county Democratic Party, on Tuesday said finding anyone to work in the director position who doesn't have any sort of political bias would be highly unlikely.

"Regardless of their political stance, their job is to effectively and efficiently carry out elections throughout the county as per local, state and federal laws and guidelines," Baker said. "There is little opportunity in my eyes for political opinion to come into play."

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Piccola and Baker agree that Ulrich's inexperience is troubling. But Baker said Ulrich shouldn't be fired, adding that Tuesday's special election offered him opportunity to show his skills. 

Hiring Ulrich despite his lack of experience is evidence of a glaring mistake made by the previous county board, Piccola said. 

A March Facebook post from Steve Ulrich, the county's new director of its Office of Elections and Voter Registration.

"Clearly, the former commissioners did not do a proper vetting process on (Ulrich)," he said of former commissioners Chris Reilly and Susan Byrnes, both Republicans. "It's like they were desperate to put somebody in the position before they left office."

When reached Tuesday, Reilly said that the then-incoming commissioners and the elections ad-hoc committee were present when the decision was made to hire Ulrich. 

No objections were raised, he said.

Ulrich was one of three applicants, Reilly said. Both of the other applicants had some form of experience in elections, but one dropped out because of salary requirements.

The other candidate was Patrick Schiding, who reached The York Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon and confirmed he has served as a Democratic inspector and judge of elections in York Township 4th Precinct, Ward 2, since 2009.

Reilly acknowledged Tuesday that Ulrich lacked elections experience but said he was impressed by the Lancaster native's background and managerial style.

Piccola added that the situation with the new director is even more problematic now that there are new voting machines that are "demonstrably" flawed ahead of the presidential elections this year.

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. He has also worked in sports communications for Ivy League schools' athletic departments.

On Friday, Ulrich admitted that he's not familiar with state election law. He will instead lean on the department's staff as he gets up to speed, he said.

The York Dispatch on Tuesday filed a Right-to-Know Law request seeking all applications submitted for the position.

Ulrich, a Lancaster County native, is tasked with leading the department that in November saw plenty of problems at voting precincts. A lack of ballot scanners, improper ballot sizes and glitches led to long lines and delayed results.

County officials delayed rolling out Ulrich's appointment for a week.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.