Evelyn Potter, Cecil County Elections Director, Retires; A Beacon of Fairness, Balance, Calm in the Political Storm
In the tumultuous and often nasty world of recent Cecil County politics, there has always been one shining light, a beacon of fairness, impartiality and calm in the eye of the local political storm– Evelyn Potter, the director of the Cecil County Board of Elections for more than two decades. But it was the end of an era Friday as she officially retired from her post.
As she packed up country-themed wooden wall signs and decorative artifacts from her office at the Cecil County administration building in Elkton, Potter sat down with Cecil Times to reflect on her past, her future and the political landscape of the county she has seen first-hand. There were some tears, laughter, and reminiscences as she reflected on her long career ensuring that local elections were conducted fairly, efficiently and with customer service always in mind.
“I’m going to miss it,” she said, wiping some tears from her eyes.
Potter came to her love for the electoral process, and ensuring its fairness, as a young woman who volunteered to be an election judge—the citizens who help on election day to sign in voters, check registration books, and answer questions from voters. She was hooked, and when a part-time clerk’s position became available, Potter took a state test and was hired at the local board in 1975.
Born in Cecil County and a graduate of Elkton High School, she eventually moved up in the local elections agency, which is overseen by the statewide Board of Elections, and became the “chief clerk” in 1990. The state changed the title of the top local elections administrative official to “director” in 1995.
Over the years, Potter saw the elections system change with new technology and constantly revised state rules and procedures. “About every four years, everything changes,” she said.
From one-day elections to multiple date early voting for primaries and general elections, from old-style ballot boxes to computerized touch-screen balloting and electronic reporting of election results and campaign finances, she has seen it all—and transitioned the local elections operations seamlessly to the modern era.
“I like to be hands-on; it’s always been that kind of office,” Potter said. So when new residents needed help on registering to vote or political neophyte candidates needed help navigating the increasingly complex procedures to file candidacy to run for local office, Potter and her staff were there to do a bit of hand-holding and patient explanations of the rules and paperwork.
Along the way, there have been some humorous moments, and a few tempests in a teapot. One year, an election judge assigned to assist at a local polling place wore a “Ceciltucky” tee shirt, Potter recalled. “There were some calls to complain, and I contacted the individual and asked him to remove or cover the shirt—and he did,” she said with a laugh.
For many years, Democrats held a dominant voter registration advantage in the county, and Potter had to go the extra mile to find Republicans who were willing to serve as election day judges at local precincts to make sure the requirements of equal party representation at the polls were met.
“We’d go through the registration lists, and then check the phone book, and call Republicans to see if they would be willing to be an election judge in their local precinct,” Potter recalled. “We had to do a lot of work to make sure we had a balance of judges on election day.”
Times have changed. For the first time in Cecil County history, Republicans narrowly topped Democrats in political party registrations before the 2012 election.
“There was a time in this county when a Republican couldn’t get elected,” she observed. Currently the entire five-members of the County Council are Republicans. County Executive Tari Moore was elected as a Republican but shifted her registration to “unaffiliated” after the election.
Potter said that much of the recent party registration shift in the county seemed to be related to a lot of new residents of the county, coming from other states and areas. But there are also “divisions” even within the established political parties, and “factions” that create shifting political party allegiances.
The tone of Cecil County politics has also changed, Potter said. From the days when neighbors could disagree about politics but still like and respect each other despite their differences, there has been an increasingly “negative” tone in local politics, she observed.
For her own future, Potter said she has “no immediate plans.” She does want to travel around the US and looks forward to spending more time with family and friends. She has two daughters and four grandchildren, as well as a 20-year old cat she ‘inherited” from her late sister and two other felines with whom she shares her Elkton home.
Friends and political figures from the county hosted a retirement party for Potter at the county building in Elkton Friday afternoon. James Crouse, the former mayor of Elkton who was recently appointed to the supervisory Board of Elections to replace the late Nelson Bolender, told Cecil Times that he has known Potter “all her life” and that everyone who knows her “admires her.”
“She is a super person and very dedicated to Cecil County,” Crouse said. “She always had a unique management style: she got the job done, and took into account everyone’s concerns.” And Potter was always “very close to the citizens” and it “didn’t matter what party you were with,” he added.
In her final few days on the job, Potter was packing up her office this week and looking backwards on her long career, as well as forward to her new life. “It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Cecil County,” she said.
And Cecil County has been honored to have Evelyn Potter serve us so well, for so long. May she have a happy, well-deserved retirement, and many thanks from the community for a job well done.