The D.C. elections board has selected a New Orleans election official to take over the city's problem-plagued election system, giving the board its first full-time executive director since Teddy Filosofos quit in frustration last October.
Emmett H. Fremaux Jr., who while serving as chief assistant to the clerk of the New Orleans criminal court supervised elections in that city for nine years, was described by board officials as having a diplomatic leadership style and the expertise needed to unsnarl the administrative problems that have led to repeated election-day snarls.
"All indications are that Mr. Fremaux is someone skilled at running an operation such as we have here and has the personal style that will enable him to deal effectively with the District government," elections board chairman Edward W. Norton said yesterday in announcing Fremaux's selection.
When Filosofos came here from Buffalo in May of last year, he was described as a skilled and strong election administrator given a mandate to overhaul the system. He resigned four months later, complaining of political interference and an inadequately trained staff.
Fremaux, 36, said at a District Building news conference yesterday that he was struck with "considerable pause" when he realized the magnitude of the District's election problems, but welcomes the challenge.
"It's going to take considerable effort and some time to correct," he said, but, "I think it can be done." Fremaux officially takes over Sept. 6, two months before the Nov. 8 elections for six school board seats and an initiative to preserve historic Rhodes Tavern. He also will arrive in the midst of an extensive voter reregistration drive aimed at eliminating from the voter rolls possibly more than 100,000 names of people no longer eligible to vote here.
Norton said the reregistration drive, begun late last month with a mailout of about 220,000 reregistration forms, has so far yielded 85,000 undeliverable returns, which generally means they represent people who are no longer District residents, and 30,000 responses from people wishing to reregister.
Elections officials expect the city's voter rolls, which now include about 400,000 names, to drop to between 220,000 and 250,000 names when the reregistration is completed. Persons who voted last year or registered since then do not have to reregister and were not sent the forms.
Norton said Fremaux emerged as the top candidate for the $56,301-a-year executive director's post after the three-member board conducted a nationwide search that culminated in interviews with 10 candidates, including four District residents. Although knowledge of the city was considered important by the board, Norton said, Fremaux's administrative skills overshadowed his being an outsider.
Fremaux's immediate tasks will include producing an accurate computerized voter registration list that will help eliminate election-day breakdowns and avoid a repeat of last September's primary election when about 22,000 registered voters were forced to cast challenged ballots in order to vote. The system has been particularly plagued with missing and incomplete voting records.
Council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), who is chairman of the council committee that oversees the elections board, said Fremaux appears to be a "good choice."
Council member John Ray (D-At Large) said he was "extremely disappointed" by the board's decision to go outside the city for its executive director. "What we don't need," Ray said, "is another person to come in and get frustrated by the system and walk away like [Filosofus] did."
Ray said Philip W. Ogilvie, an aide to the city secretary who also applied for the elections job, would have been a better choice because he is both familiar with the city's election process and understands District government.
As chief deputy clerk for the criminal courts in Orleans Parish, which includes the entire city of New Orleans, Fremaux had other responsibilities besides running elections and helping direct a staff of 90 employes. He did not have direct responsibility for voter registration, which was handled by a separate registrar of voters. He said he worked "hand in glove" with the registrar.
Ron Mabonne, the attorney for the Orleans clerk's office, said yesterday that Fremaux has done a "tremendous job in preserving the integrity of the election process" there, and has had no problems managing several hotly contested races, including one decided by 14 votes. "We're going to miss him here," Mabonne said.