South Carolina

Acting Richland elections director leaves for new job after two months in charge

Interim Richland County Elections Director Thad Hall is leaving his post for a similar job in Arizona, meaning the embattled agency’s new board will have to start from scratch to find its next director.

Hall, who became interim director in May when the board fired his boss, Rokey Suleman, told The State he has accepted a job as director of elections in Coconino County, Arizona. The move brings him closer to his son, a senior in high school in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I’m moving purely for personal reasons,” he said.

The Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Commission will meet Tuesday to name Hall’s interim successor and discuss a timeline for hiring a full-time replacement. Hall would have been a favorite in that search, offering some stability to an agency facing near-total leadership turnover.

The commission’s next moves are important as the agency navigates a challenging year ahead and attempts to move on from the November 2018 midterms, when it failed to count 1,000 votes. That mistake led Gov. Henry McMaster to fire the agency’s entire board. The new board then voted to get rid of Suleman.

The agency now must implement new voting machines purchased by the state, then conduct municipal elections in November, a Democratic presidential primary in February, party primaries in June and a November 2020 general election that is expected to turn out more voters than any election in a century.

Efforts to reach commission chairman Charles Austin for comment Monday morning were unsuccessful.

Duncan Buell, another member of the board, said the commission has no hard feelings about Hall’s departure.

“Flagstaff? It’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s gorgeous — 7,000 feet (above sea level). It’s 2 1/2 hours to the Grand Canyon,” said Buell, a University of South Carolina professor who attended college at the University of Arizona. “I can’t blame him. It puts him closer to his son.”

Hall, the agency’s sixth leader since 2012, acknowledged taking the Arizona job is a “lateral move” by industry standards. His pay will be similar to if he had stayed in Richland, he said.

But he said his new agency has a different structure. Notably, it isn’t governed by a politically appointed board.

It also runs elections in the second largest geographic county in the contiguous United States, one that includes a chunk of the Grand Canyon — including a polling location at the bottom that can be reached only by helicopter or donkey.

“It’s exciting,” Hall said.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.