OP-ED: Give new director chance to run elections (it's not rocket science)

Steve Zorbaugh
West Manchester Township

Dear York County Commissioner:

Ignore Jeff Piccola, Joe Gothie and the York County Republican Committee’s call for the firing of Elections Director Steve Ulrich. At this point, Ulrich has done nothing wrong except run a fair and smooth special election (for the 48th Senate seat) and, as a newly hired individual, deserves the chance to prove his worthiness.

If he fails to meet expectations of an election director, by all means fire him. But don’t cave in to partisan sniping by groups and individuals whose real complaints are that he’s not afraid to speak truth to power and doesn’t share their desire to suppress voting by people who don’t share their ideology. It’s refreshing to see the hiring of a person who seeks to promote democracy, not strangle it.

As you well know, an elections director’s job is to run fair (meaning impartial) and smooth elections, to report results in a prompt and accurate manner, to encourage voter participation in our democratic process and to make it as easy as possible for voters to do so. Nothing in Ulrich’s resume suggests he can’t fulfill those requirements.

Ulrich and his staff conducted an election (albeit a small one) less than a week into his tenure and there were no reports of the kind of snafus that surfaced during the 2019 general election. Ulrich’s critics will give credit for that to the election director’s staff, as they should, but the retention of that same staff assures the citizens of York County that the work of the Department of Elections and Voter registration continues unabated despite the presence of a new director.

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

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I mean no disrespect to you, Ulrich or the other directors of county offices, but as you well know, the bulk of York County’s business is conducted by its staff, and York County’s staff is as good as you’ll find anywhere.

Election director job requirements do not include the holding of a particular political ideology, nor should they. Liberals are just as capable as conservatives in running fair and impartial elections and maintaining voter records. If Ulrich is a liberal, fine. If he’s a conservative, that’s fine, too. All we should care about is whether or not he can perform his duties in an even-handed and efficient manner and keep whatever political views he has out of the office. So far, he’s done just that.

In Joe Gothie’s recent op-ed letter to you, his first complaint about Ulrich was as follows: “First, he admitted publicly that he has no idea what he is doing. He admits he has zero command of the subject matter. Not poor — zero.”

Those weren’t Ulrich’s exact words, but let’s give Gothie the benefit of the doubt. To that I say, “Great!” Finally, there’s somebody in government who admits to not knowing what the heck they’re doing. It’s refreshing to know the truth means something to Ulrich, and he’s not afraid to admit what he doesn’t know.

Look, Ulrich is a very intelligent guy. Despite efforts by critics to paint him as totally out of his league, the fact remains he was the executive director of the Centennial Conference athletic league. It’s an NCAA Division III league, not as highly touted as the SEC or Big Ten, but a college league nevertheless, and running such a league requires the type of organization-leading skills the elections director position demands.

Pennsylvania’s Election Code is lengthy and technical in nature, but it’s not rocket science. A person as intelligent as Ulrich should have no problem understanding its requirements. Plus, as I indicated earlier, he has a knowledgeable staff he can depend on. I’ve gone to the elections office on several occasions and the staff there have always been able to answer my questions.

The real reason critics of Ulrich demand his firing is the fact that, in past social media postings, Ulrich was critical of the president and members of our congressional delegation. Like any other citizen, Ulrich had a constitutional right to express his political opinions and to do so publicly, and frankly, those criticisms were warranted. Ulrich’s willingness to speak truth to power is a benefit to the citizens of York County, not a liability. As long as Ulrich’s personal opinions and media postings from here on out do not interfere with the requirements of the position he was hired to fill, he deserves the right to prove his professional worth.