First female elections bureau chief chosen

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Longtime Department of State staffer Sally Williams will be the next Michigan elections bureau chief, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced Wednesday.

Williams — who will be Michigan’s first female Bureau of Elections director — is taking over after Christopher Thomas retires on Friday following 36 years as director. She is currently the Election Liaison Division director and helps county and local clerks administrate and oversee elections.

Williams starts her new job July 1.

She was previously assistant to the chief of staff and a project manager in the offices of former secretaries of state Candice Miller and Terri Lynn Land.

“Sally’s breadth of experience with Michigan elections and her established relationship with local clerks make her an excellent choice to lead the Bureau of Elections,” Johnson said in a statement. “She will ensure Michigan voters can continue to have full confidence in the accuracy and integrity of our elections process.

Johnson praised Williams for helping improve election worker training, post-election audits and working 30 years for the department after graduating from Michigan State University. She directed the push for new election equipment the department has purchased for the next statewide election in August 2018.

“I’m honored to be Michigan’s next elections director,” Williams said in a statement. “We have a great team in the Bureau of Elections, and Chris Thomas has prepared us well. I look forward to continuing my work with local clerks so Michigan voters have their voices heard on Election Day.”

Thomas was first appointed in 1981 by then-Secretary of State Richard Austin, a Democrat. He later worked under three Republicans, including Johnson.

Thomas’ departure is coming after one of Michigan’s more tumultuous election cycles, which ended in a partial hand recount of 2016 general election ballots requested by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein but eventually halted by state and federal courts.

The bureau also led a state audit of Detroit precincts with significant discrepancies between vote totals recorded in poll books and machine tabulators caused by “an abundance of human errors” by local precinct workers.

The Bureau of Elections works closely with 1,600 local elections clerks across Michigan, providing staff training and assistance. The bureau also administers statewide elections and the state’s Qualified Voter file, along with campaign finance and lobbying disclosure laws.