Former Army secretary Togo D. West Jr. is stepping down as chairman of the District’s elections board — an agency already weakened by the unexpected resignation of its executive director last month.
It was unclear why or when West will officially leave his post, but Mayor Vincent C. Gray confirmed the departure Monday, adding that he is moving quickly to find a replacement to maintain stability at the agency. West is one of two members on what is supposed to be a three-member board.
“I do have someone in mind,” Gray (D) said, declining to identify his potential nominee.
The staff at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics was surprised to learn of West’s departure as the agency prepares for next year’s primary election, which has been moved up to April under new laws.
West did not return calls for comment. In a voice-mail message, his secretary said he would be in a meeting for the entire day.
Also a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, West brought credibility to the elections board, which had developed a reputation for slow returns and flawed equipment. West was appointed a year ago by then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who scrambled to find a replacement for Errol Arthur, who resigned as chairman to become a magistrate judge. At the time, Fenty and Gray were in a contentious race for mayor, and Gray and D.C. Council members were scrutinizing Fenty’s decisions. West was immediately approved.
West’s departure, coupled with the sudden resignation of Executive Director Rokey W. Suleman II, again shrouds the agency in uncertainty. “Now we have two very important positions vacant,” said Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who heads the council’s Committee on Government Operations.
Bowser said she told the agency’s staff last week that she did not want major changes at the board beyond September so that it would be ready for the April election.
Applicants for the executive director job have until Monday to submit résumés, and the elections board will choose a new director after Labor Day, said board spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin. Paul Stenbjorn, chief technology officer, will serve as the board’s interim director.
McLaughlin said that she was awaiting details about West on Monday but that she did not think his departure would be immediate or that it would affect the April election. “The board does not personally manage the day-to-day operations of the agency, so our preparations for the April election are not affected,” McLaughlin said.
The mayor appoints board members, who in turn designate the executive director. Gray said his administration would work closely with the elections board to make sure everything runs smoothly. “I’m certain that we will be ready for the election next year,” he said.
West became chairman last summer as the elections board oversaw new laws such as same-day registration and early voting. Since then, the board has also handled investigations, including a probe into financial irregularities with the 2008 campaign of now Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D).
The board agreed last month to refer the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office. “It means we think there’s criminal activity here that needs to be looked into,” West said at the time.