Kenneth A. McDowell has been named the new director of the Department of Elections for Sussex County, succeeding his father, Kenneth McDowell, who will retire from the position on July 15.
The younger McDowell was chosen from five candidates for the position and will take over on Aug. 1. The annual salary for the position is $80,400.
The senior McDowell, 66, director of the department since June 1991, is retiring to run his family businesses, which include operating a fleet of 19 school buses, farming, a tow-truck enterprise and rental properties. At one time, he and his wife, Sharon, had 24 school buses, but they’ve since sold five.
“We said we would cut back. COVID-19 came in, and negotiations for more school buses didn’t happen. It’s been a great job, but I had enough time in, so I decided it’s time to retire,” he told the Coastal Point, adding that he wasn’t involved in choosing his replacement but he will be training him.
To be successful in the position of director, he said, “You have to deal with legislators all the time, so you have to have some legislative experience. You need management experience, obviously. We have a staff of seven, but during the elections it goes up to 14 or 15. You have to know about school boards.
“We do 25 towns, six school districts and general elections. We do all the county elections and all the town referendums. It’s a busy job, but luckily we have staff to help us with all this,” he said.
The department received new voting machines this year, replacing the 1994 models.
“They are gone and scrapped. I was one of the guys who helped pick them out. The 1954 voting machines are gone and scrapped. They weighed 800 pounds. It was a lever machine, a huge machine. It was not electric at all except for lights. You had to flip a lever over. I was born in 1954, so I don’t remember getting them,” he said, laughing.
When he was first hired, there were 51,000 registered voters in Sussex County and now there are 175,000.
McDowell asked county officials to postpone a retirement dinner to honor him, due to the coronavirus, and said he hopes it can be planned around Christmas.
“I will miss the people for sure,” said McDowell, father of two sons, Kenneth A. and Derek Lee, and a daughter, Tina Abbott. He and his wife also have five grandchildren, ages 4 to 21.
“I always like to talk to the voters, the elected officials, the candidates. I can’t tell you anything I don’t like about the job. I really like it, and I’m honored to have had it,” McDowell said.
“But I don’t have any second thoughts about retiring. No. I have to go home and take care of business.”