St. Louis County’s Republican election chief will likely retire later this year.
During this week’s meeting of the county’s Board of Election Commissioners, GOP Elections director Gary Fuhr announced that he was planning to retire. It came as commissioners mulled over whether to punish anybody for ballot shortages at more than 60 polling places earlier this month. (A Democratic director and a Republican director run the elections board. Whichever director shares the governor's party typically is in charge.)
During a telephone interview, Fuhr emphasized he was not resigning. Rather, he said “he wanted to make sure that they had all the information that they needed to make informed decisions.
"At my age , I was looking to go sometime before the end of the year anyway,” Fuhr said. “I think giving the board that information so that they can make their decisions was an important thing to do.”
The board didn’t punish Fuhr for the ballot shortages. They suspended Democratic director Eric Fey for two weeks and elections coordinator Laura Goebel for one week.
“I had not notified anybody that that (retiring) was my plan. But I thought it was imperative and important to them as they make decisions of what they want to do so they knew that was forthcoming,” Fuhr said. “As I also heard, they’ve asked me to reconsider. So we haven’t agreed upon a specific date or anything at this point. But I did want them to have that working knowledge so that they could make their appropriate decisions to do what’s best for the office.”
Both the board’s attorney, Darold Crotzer, and Elections Commissioner John Maupin confirmed Fuhr’s account.
“He selected a date that was after the time for filing any challenges to the April 5 election and wanted the board to be able to plan going forward,” Maupin said in an email.
From the State House
Before he was brought on as the GOP elections director in 2012, Fuhr served one term in the Missouri House. And before that, he had extensive experience in security and law enforcement — including a post as a special agent for the FBI.
This isn't the first time ballot shortages occurred when Fuhr was serving as a director, as some polling place ran out of paper ballots in 2014. Fuhr noted that there were differences between that situation and what happened earlier this month: For one thing, there were no electronic voting machines available in the more recent election. And in 2014, officials couldn’t keep up with a high demand for paper ballots, which wasn’t the problem this time around.
“We sent out plenty of ballots this time,” Fuhr said. “It wasn’t like we under ordered ballots. But in a lot of those instances, we ordered the wrong style of ballot for the wrong polling location.”
Fuhr said he couldn’t comment on why he wasn’t punished for the ballot shortages, alluding to how personnel decisions are closed under the state’s open records law.
But in any case, Fuhr made no excuses for what happened.
“Being a director here in the office, there is a responsibility to make sure that things go correctly,” Fuhr said. “There was a mistake that was made. Things didn’t go correctly. And sure, I feel a sense of responsibility that some voters didn’t have the opportunity to vote. And some candidates are concerned about the outcome of their elections. It’s troubling. Because we should be in a position to handle these things correctly. And I want to give the board an opportunity to take whatever steps they feel are important to have a long-term positive results.
“So is there a sense of responsibility?” Fuhr added. “Absolutely. I’m a director. And I do have a responsibility for certain things that occurred. It may impact the timing of when we actually decide. The board had conducted their investigation. Obviously, I wasn’t disciplined in any way, shape or form because of the facts of the situation.”