Kenneth “Bo” McDowell became the director of the Sussex County Department of Elections office in July this year. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because McDowell succeeds his father, Kenneth McDowell Sr., who held the same position for 29 years before retiring.
Bo McDowell was appointed to the position by the State Board of Elections and serves at their pleasure. There is a director and a deputy director, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. The director’s position goes to a member of the governor’s party, which in this case is a Democrat. Deputy Director Jean Turner, the Republican appointee, has served in that position for many years.
Starting in August 2007, McDowell worked in constituent relations for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and later Gov. Jack Markell before taking on a campaign finance position for the state. He worked in that position for five years before receiving his current election board appointment.
McDowell said the Sussex department will be handling a record number of absentee ballots this year. Requests for 20,000 absentee ballots had been received by Sept. 30. That’s double the number of absentee ballot requests received for the 2018 election. “It’s because of the COVID,” said McDowell.
The office had also received requests for 14,000 vote-by-mail ballots as of Sept. 30, those also being driven by people not wanting to go to the polls to cast their votes. Absentee ballots have already been mailed. However, by law, the vote-by-mail ballots have to be mailed out to voters no sooner than 30 days before the election. They went out at the end of the first week in October.
“They can be mailed back and have to be here no later than Election Day. Those received after Election Day will not be counted,” said McDowell.
Completed ballots can also be placed in a 24-hour drop box at the side door of the Department of Elections building on Race and Depot streets in Georgetown, he said. “The drop box area is lit up and there’s a camera there for security. I think Sussex is the only county with a 24-hour drop box. There’s also a drop box in front of the building available for public use during business hours.”
The ballots being mailed are inserted into their envelopes by a machine instead of hand-stuffing. McDowell said the machine takes the place of 10 employees.
After the ballots are returned in the mail, the actual scanning will begin Friday, Oct. 16. The ballots are separated from their envelopes, where the voter’s name is written. “We separate the ballots to keep them anonymous, but we also save the envelopes so we can show people, if they are concerned their vote wasn't counted. But first, we verify each mailed ballot we receive against the list of ballots that were mailed. ”
McDowell said the ballots are then fed through a high-speed scanner that records the votes and enters them into the system. The actual tabulation of the votes won’t occur until after the polls close on Election Day.
Meanwhile, McDowell and Turner have been busy lining up the 700 or so poll workers who will be needed on Election Day. “We sent out 700 fliers to those who have worked in the past and will make calls to fill in the gaps. Poll workers receive $50 for attending a one-day class and $140 for working the polls. Inspectors receive $185 for the Election Day work, $50 for the class, and an additional $25 if they drop off or pick up the materials needed at the polls.”
All in all, he said, there will be about 750 people working the Sussex polls on Election Day. The cost for all of them comes to about $150,000.
McDowell is confident in the system being used for the mail and getting the workers needed for Election Day. “We’re going to be fine,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Oct. 8 to clarify that the actual tabulation of absentee and mail-in votes won’t occur until after the polls close on Election Day. McDowell said the scanning of the ballots, not the counting, will start on Friday, Oct. 16.