EDITORIAL: How seriously do York County officials take elections?

The Dispatch Editorial Board

Good luck, Mr. Ulrich.

Regaining the trust of York County voters would be a big lift for the most seasoned elections director, considering the problems reported last November.

So it's curious that, in their final moments in office, York County commissioners opted to name Steve Ulrich, a man with no experience whatsoever running elections, as director of York County's Department of Elections and Voter Registration.

Ulrich is a lifelong sports administrator and spokesman. He spent years doing PR for Ivy League athletic programs, and he ran a division III athletic conference.

Clearly, Ulrich is skilled in the art of sports promotion.

But, for the life of us, we cannot see how that qualifies him for a job that will include fixing an election process that in November was a statewide embarrassment and instituting a new state law — one partially crafted because of York County's disastrous municipal election.

That law is touted as the most significant overhaul of state voting law in decades.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Ulrich owned the holes on his resume. He intends to lean on longtime staff in order to learn the ins and outs in real time, he said.

His understanding of state election law is no better than the average voter's, he acknowledged. 

What, pray tell, were county commissioners looking for in the interview process, anyway? It's almost as if outgoing Commissioners Susan Byrnes and Chris Reilly set out to troll their successors, and returning Commissioner Doug Hoke played along. 

County spokesman Mark Walters said that deputies in the elections office are seasoned and capable to handling Tuesday's special election and April's presidential primary.

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

One can't help but wonder why didn't York County's outgoing commissioners just promote one of those in-house experts to succeed Nikki Suchanic, who tendered her resignation days after November's messy municipal elections. 

Make no mistake, we're actively pulling for Ulrich to succeed. 

Elections in which citizens have confidence are a benchmark for a republic's overall health. And his pledge to engage young voters and boost York County's historically low turnout could only be bolstered by his marketing experience. 

But it's no wonder York County made such a mess of announcing Ulrich. How would the county Board of Commissioners — including two new members who were not involved in Ulrich's appointment — massage that message? County officials spent a week waffling on when and how to roll out Ulrich's appointment. 

If Ulrich is going to succeed, he must first convince commissioners to stop cheaping out on voting equipment and take seriously reforms that make voting easier and more accessible. A lack of ballot scanners was, according to most experts and observers, a key component of the issues in November. 

York County's elected officials should finally take seriously the import elections have on society's overall health and recognize that, in a presidential year, turnout is likely to be high. Anything less would be undercutting Ulrich from the outset.

No, Steve Ulrich is not qualified to run York County's election office. But you can't blame him for applying to a job posting. It's elected officials that opted to try this little experiment.

And, just maybe, Ulrich's background in sports PR will help him work the refs. Maybe he can pull more cash out of the miserly county board that's refused to listen to expertise and reason. Maybe a spokesman is just what York County's election office needs. 

Or maybe we're just trying to make ourselves feel better.