Michigan Elections Director to Retire in June After Decades of Service

Secretary Johnson: Voters “benefited tremendously from his leadership”

State Elections Director Christopher M. Thomas today announced he will retire in June after a career spanning five decades serving Michigan voters.

“I am incredibly grateful for Chris’ experience and expertise as state elections director,” said Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who previously served as the Oakland County clerk. “Michigan voters and election workers have benefited tremendously from his leadership. I know of no one else here in Michigan or nationwide who has done more to support voters and improve election administration.”

Then-Secretary of State Richard Austin, a Democrat, appointed Thomas elections director in 1981. He then served under three Republican secretaries of state, most recently under Johnson. He began his career in elections administration in 1974 by working for the U.S. House of Representatives and later the Federal Election Commission.

“I take great pride in the team developed in the Bureau of Elections to carry out the secretary’s supervisory responsibilities under Michigan Election Law,” Thomas wrote in his resignation letter. “The bureau has never been better prepared or more cohesive as they are right now. I am comfortable leaving Michigan elections in these hands.”

“Enormous changes in the world of election administration have taken place over the past 40 years. The bureau has never been better prepared or more cohesive as they are right now. I am comfortable leaving Michigan elections in these hands. The secretary of state and the Bureau of Elections have been called upon by the Michigan Legislature and the Congress to take a larger role in ensuring uniform election administration, rolling out technology based services and keeping the franchise easily accessible and secure to all Michigan electors.”

Thomas has held positions in national organizations to improve election administration across the United States, including as chair of the Board of Advisers to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2006 to 2008 and as a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013. He also was a founding member of the National Association of State Elections Directors in 1989, and served as its president in 1997 and 2013. He was awarded the association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2012. He also has been an adjunct professor since 2001 at the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, where he received a law degree, teaching election law.

Bureau of Elections staff works closely with the 1,600 clerks of the state’s counties, cities and townships to provide training and assist local election officials with their duties. The bureau is responsible for administering the state’s Qualified Voter File, and Michigan election, campaign-finance and lobbyist disclosure laws.

Among the recent examples of new communications tools, the Bureau of Elections now offers an online training website for election workers, expanded YouTube education videos and the mobile-friendly Michigan Voter Information Center at www.Michigan.gov/vote, which allows voters to find their polling place, review a sample ballot and track their absentee ballot.

Department leadership will develop a plan to fill the position in the coming months.