I talked with Secretary of State Bernie Buescher this afternoon. He is an interesting guy, starting off talking for 5 minutes about the various iPhone apps he uses and demonstrating UrbanSpoon (which has a very cool way of clicking submit - you shake the phone and it makes a rattling noise). He definitely likes high-tech toys (his wife & mine probably have similiar complaints).
He comes across as a fellow business executive, which makes sense as most of his experience has been running companies and state organizations. He is very comfortable in the role of managing his office and delivering a quality product.
He sees the largest job in front of him as elections. He was very clear that the law is set by the legislature and his job is to implement it, but that an awful lot goes into that implementation. He repeated the mantra of testing, running, & auditing over and over. He wants to make sure all of that is done effectively and efficiently.
In terms of auditing I asked him point blank if he felt a paper trail was needed and his reply was it is not as there are theoretical issues with no paper trail but he is not aware of any actual issues around that. (Speaking as a programmer, I would never trust an electronic-only vote.)
In his discussions he saw people's distrust of the voting process as a much bigger problem than actual issues in the vote. He talked about how many people think the system is inaccurate and that perception needs to be addressed, both by the actions taken in the voting process and publicizing those actions.
He did not bring up certification of existing systems except for the upcoming proposal to grandfather in all existing systems until 2013. I did not ask so he may be planning to check the questionable systems, or he may be leaving them alone until 2013.
I had not realized this but there are no political appointees in his office except Chief of Staff. And he has not appointed a Chief of Staff both to save money (the tight economy touches everyone) and because he prefers to directly manage his staff. He was very adamant about running the office fairly and even-handedly in a non-partisan manner. And as a former business executive I think he will be able to do that better than most politicians because he has experience in measuring by product delivered.
He then talked about how there is a perception that there is a partisan problem in his office that the Secretary of State position has been used for partisan advantage. I asked him if there had been an actual problem, or just the perception. He thought about it for a bit and replied that if there is a perception then that is a problem. Definitely a very non-partisan answer. (I now worry that on every decision he makes Dick Wadhams will scream that it is unfair. But Bernie does not strike me as anyone's patsy.)
Next up was the filings that are handled for corporations in the state. He says that is running just about perfectly and they are tweaking a few things but he is very happy with that system. (As a CEO I have never heard any complaints about this system so it must be running well.) Short conversation about that part.
He then brought up the non-profit filings and said that they have a lot of work to do there. He wants to provide a lot more in terms of reporting on those filings. (Gee, if only there was a good reporting product out there...) If he does a good job here we could find that we have fewer cases of scams masquerading as non-profits and that means more donations for the legit ones. This could actually be his biggest contribution to the state in this office.
He also talked at various times about how rough the economy is. He is not filling most of his open positions because any unfilled job (like Chief of Staff) is money the state can use elsewhere. When I told him my company is hiring a giant grin lit up his face. He definitely sees the pain most are facing and very much liked hearing that it's not 100% bad.
So what do we get with Bernie? My guess is utter boredom. The Secretary of State office is going to do it's job competently and with zero fuss. Imagine, no arguments over counting the votes, just arguing over who we should vote for.