Dr. Brenda Snipes: A History of Excellence
By Rasheed Baaithe and Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
Leaders are shaped by several things, most especially the people around them as they move from childhood to adulthood. The values we are given, the character we see modeled and the principles we are told to live by. These things become anchors of our lives.
Those who grow into leaders have all of these attributes plus one more. They also have the desire to serve and the courage to do what others are afraid to do. And if there is one thing Brenda Snipes has never let get, in the way of her leadership, is fear.
Do you want to go back to work Dr. Snipes?
“You know I don’t have to go back to work and I don’t know if I can say I want to go back. You know I can’t say that I wanna go back. If I go back I would have to start all over again from the ground level because I’ve been gone for over a month, and I would have to create a new culture.”
Because technology changes so rapidly, how did the supervisor of elections office under your leadership prepare itself for these rapid changes in technology?
“Well, we always stayed on top of things that were new. And they match the needs for what we needed in our office. This was done by going to conferences, reading literature and being well trained.”
We sometimes underestimate or fail to realize the risks some of our folk are facing when they take on positions, events, or responsibilities that others want them to fail at. When you became Supervision of Elections, you were not looking for a job nor indeed financial compensation. You took the position because there was a need for someone from our community with the required skill set to meet the demand.
We know it was stated that you were working with outdated and old equipment; how did you address that issue?
“We had cutting edge equipment that we recently acquired. It wasn’t like we had a whole year in advance, but we had the most cutting- edge equipment, and I don’t think you can buy everything on the market. You must really evaluate. We had an excellent operation, but you must invest in it. Even with the latest piece of equipment, the tabulator, I do believe, was overworked. The tabulators are high speed counters. That machine just counted, counted, and counted every day, and if you’re counting 24 hours a day you can burn up something. You know that’s what happened to Susan, but hers was old and ours was right off the cutting room floor.
You know you got to have a lot of practice with these things and we had 12 of them and when we did the second reporting we did not have all of the pages. We had just counted them on Tuesday and the second report was later that Thursday. So, I determined that the heat caused a problem because the pages were sticking. And we didn’t have time to go back and pull things apart to see what happened. And if you don’t have the same numbers, then you must be doing something dishonest or crooked. There were so many people who assumed that if this is not right, what did y’all do?”
You knew you would be under intense scrutiny and you knew there would be standards of performance others in your position had not had to meet before. Knowing too that even in our community there were those who had little confidence in your abilities. You did not let that stop you.
Dr. Snipes, at one time in your professional life you were a trainer of educators. Those who were selected to participate in your training program had to meet certain criteria. Someone once said that you didn’t care about the meeting of criteria; you wanted to know if they were afraid of what they had to learn. You were concerned if they allowed themselves to be intimidated by a training, how would they respond to critical situations in their teaching life? And how would that fear impact the students? You never allowed fear to control your life and wouldn’t let any student of yours have any other mentality.
If you would please describe to us what that operation looked like with the room full of tabulating machines, what size and how many people were in there?
“Around the walls we had shelves, but we had about 12 machines and there were about 50 to 60 people from the Parties and the media. It was the most cramped space! All of this was done where we were counting. The entire area where we counted the votes was replete with cameras. The area was no bigger than this room, maybe 30 by 30 ft. Now, I will say when I first went into that position we engaged in a lot of talk about a new building and money was set aside for a new building. Then we ran into the real estate problem. It bottomed out. When things got better we got on it again. The Supervisor of Elections office really needs to have its own facility. I don’t care who’s in there.
“Another thing I would say is that the legislators, when they put all that information on the ballot and every person had at least five pages front and back minimum, and Hollywood had six pages front and back minimum and see these things are not looked at as a part of the process, they are a part of the process and the problem. And I will tell you something else that’s a problem. It’s a perception problem, and that is how we do vote by mail ballots.
“We have to start sending our vote by mail ballots out by 45 days before election. That’s for the military because these people can be all over the world. It doesn’t matter where they are; we must do it 45 days before and we’ve never missed a deadline.
“We sent out over 299,000 that were valid, but when you count over 299,000 you probably have sent out another 100,000 that didn’t come back or came back without the right information. So, when that happens, and we say to voters just get that ballot back in here before 7 p.m. on election night, that is the most asinine law that we have in elections. Now remember, we’ve had over 299,000 votes by mail, lots and lots of ballots. So, all of them are not mailed back in to us. They may have just been walked in or they could have sent them in. And they can walk them in two minutes before seven as long as we have them in by 7 o’clock. That is a valid ballot time wise as long as we have them in by 7 o’clock. So, the legislators need to get strategic by backing that date up.
“When we start early voting or sometime earlier out from election day, that should be the new deadline for receiving vote by mail ballots.
With all of these intricate parts, which includes counting the votes and matching the signature among others, how is the public sufficiently educated on this?