Montgomery County’s manager of voter services resigned Monday because, she said, she “was being treated as an outcast” ever since her boss, the county’s chief elections official, abruptly resigned last month.
Andee Knopf, a longtime civil litigation paralegal, joined the county Voter Services Department shortly after former director Kelly L. Green was hired in February 2014. She said senior county staff kept her out of the loop on preparation for the upcoming November presidential election when Green left on Sept. 12.
“I’m not sure what’s going on in the office,” Knopf said in an interview Wednesday of her decision to resign. “There has been a change. I felt I was not being utilized properly, especially with the director gone, because I was her second in command.”
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The loss of two key elections officials comes just weeks before what Knopf said will likely be a high-turnout election, as is usual in presidential years. She said that with roughly five weeks to go before Election Day on Nov. 8, the department is "extremely hectic at this point."
The department is charged with getting ballots certified for use in elections, overseeing voter registration, preventing problems at polling places, and making sure the 1,000 voting machines used throughout the county work.
Despite their tall task, Knopf expressed confidence in the 13 full-time employees and numerous part-time employees that remain.
“It is going to be a struggle, but I know my former staff and I know they are going to pull it off,” Knopf said. “They’ve been through worse.”
Green’s two and a half year tenure as director marked a relatively stable time for the department, which prior to her hiring had gone through four directors in four years. The turnover began after longtime former director Joseph Passarella was ousted in 2013. His departure coincided with Democrats taking over the majority on the county Board of Commissioners for the first time in 150 years.
County clerk and chief operating officer, Lauren Lambrugo, took over as interim voter services director following Green’s resignation. Knopf, who would not comment on Lambrugo or her temporary role, said the department had also recently hired a new voter services administrator and shifted a longtime county official from her position in Information Technology to Voter Services to help run the department.
The Voter Services Department is governed by the county Board of Elections, which is usually made up of the three county commissioners. But with Commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro running in the general election for Pennsylvania Attorney General, Common Pleas Judge Cheryl Austin is serving on the board with Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Joe Gale.
Arkoosh said in an interview that she had full confidence in the Voter Services Department despite the losses of Green and Knopf.
“I’m 100 percent confident in our people in Voter Services and what we have in place to ensure a fair, secure election process,” said Arkoosh, who is part of the two-Democrat majority with Shapiro on the Board of Commissioners.
She cited the staff’s experience, with many workers having been a part of numerous elections.
Gale, on the other hand, said the two resignations so close to a presidential election worry him.
"Pennsylvania is a swing-state and there are more than 500,000 voters in this county," said Gale, the Republican minority commissioner.
He also objected to Lambrugo’s interim appointment and Macekura’s hire, noting that both have previously worked on campaigns for Shapiro and former Commissioner Leslie Richards, who is currently serving as Pennsylvania’s transportation secretary.
“This is the kind of politically-driven behavior that weakens the voter’s confidence in our electoral process. With Commissioner Shapiro on the ballot for Attorney General, he should not have his former Democratic campaign team overseeing voter services.”
In response, Arkoosh said, “Commissioner Gale’s accusations are baseless. Lauren, in particular, has been Chief Clerk of the Election Board for 10 elections, including the one in which Commissioner Gale was elected. In this position, Lauren has earned the respect of Republicans and Democrats across the County.”
Knopf said she has no idea what happened that led Green to depart so suddenly, but she as well as the rest of the department were “shell shocked” when they learned of the director’s resignation.
“She was amazing to work for,” Knopf said. “She changed the entire culture of that department.”
Green could not be reached for comment. She previously served as president of the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia from 2006 to 2011 and was deputy director of the Institute for the Study of Civic Values in Philadelphia for 13 years.
At her hiring in 2014, former Commissioner Leslie Richards called Green’s hiring “a major step forward in the county’s plans to streamline and modernize the operations of the voter services department.”
Knopf said the pressure is on for Montgomery County to run a smooth election next month.
“This county is going to be watched very closely. Donald Trump has pointed out that if he loses, he’ll say it’s rigged. And you have a commissioner, Josh Shapiro, who is running for the AG on the statewide level,” she said. “Montgomery County is going to be under a magnifying glass, so it probably wasn’t great timing.”