Oregon Elections Director Fired Over State Computer Infrastructure Concerns

Oregon’s state elec­tions direc­tor is out of the job, less than a week after a record-break­ing gen­er­al elec­tion that has yet to be certified.

Steve Trout, who was tapped for a sec­ond stint man­ag­ing Ore­gon elec­tions in 2017, served his last day on Fri­day, accord­ing to the sec­re­tary of state’s office. Trout’s for­mer deputy, Michelle Teed, is serv­ing as act­ing elec­tions direc­tor, accord­ing to Andrea Chi­a­pel­la, chief of staff for Sec­re­tary of State Bev Clarno.

“Steve gave us notice that he would be leav­ing the agency and in order to ensure a smooth tran­si­tion, his last day was Fri­day,” Chi­a­pel­la said Sat­ur­day evening. “We appre­ci­ate all of his great work as elec­tions direc­tor and we are lucky to have had such a knowl­edge­able advo­cate for the demo­c­ra­t­ic process on our team.”

Trout said Mon­day he was actu­al­ly fired via text mes­sage last Thurs­day, after rais­ing seri­ous con­cerns about the office and inform­ing Clarno he was seek­ing oth­er work. He said he had com­mit­ted to stay­ing on with the sec­re­tary of state’s office until Decem­ber 15, in order to com­plete duties asso­ci­at­ed with the election.

“I would not aban­don my staff or the coun­ties before the elec­tion is over, espe­cial­ly since I was the only one at the SOS office with a secu­ri­ty clear­ance that could be noti­fied of any elec­tion attacks dur­ing this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process,” Trout wrote in an email. “There is no res­ig­na­tion let­ter because I didn’t resign. I was laid off via text mes­sage late Thursday.”

A memo Trout sent last week to sec­re­tary of state can­di­dates pro­vides more con­text to his dis­missal. In the damn­ing let­ter to Sec­re­tary of State-elect Shemia Fagan and her oppo­nent, state Sen. Kim Thatch­er, Trout laid out a litany of chal­lenges faced by the elec­tions division.

He said that the sec­re­tary of state’s office, which has been run by four peo­ple since 2015, suf­fered from “a lack of strate­gic vision and plans for the agency, and staff are not focused due to that lack of vision and lead­er­ship.” Part of that, Trout wrote in the let­ter sent on the eve of the elec­tion, was due to for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Den­nis Richard­son dying of can­cer in 2019, which, he not­ed, “was no one’s fault.”

“Some of our elec­tion sys­tems are run­ning on Win­dows Serv­er 2008,” Trout wrote. “End-of-life main­stream sup­port from Microsoft end­ed back on Jan­u­ary 13, 2015, and all sup­port end­ed on Jan­u­ary 14, 2020. Our pub­lic fac­ing web­sites are sin­gle thread­ed through one pow­er sup­ply on the capi­tol mall and one inter­net con­nec­tion. There is no redun­dan­cy or resilien­cy or plan to pro­vide either.”

Trout also said that the elec­tions divi­sion is among the first places that sees bud­get cuts in tough times, and he com­plained that law­mak­ers had not autho­rized offi­cials to spend near­ly $12 mil­lion made avail­able by the fed­er­al CARES Act. He also not­ed that law­mak­ers had reject­ed a request for a “social media/public records” posi­tion, even as the num­ber of pub­lic records requests spiked.

Trout closed the memo on a dour note:

“I don’t want you to be sur­prised if you hear I am inter­view­ing for new jobs,” he wrote. “It is not because I don’t want to work for either of you, but rather because I can­not suc­ceed with the cur­rent state of tech­nol­o­gy and lack of sup­port in the agency. I don’t believe any­one will be able to succeed.”

Trout did not make clear in the memo that his depar­ture was immi­nent, how­ev­er. Rather, he urged Fagan and Thatch­er to take his con­cerns seri­ous­ly, say­ing: “I would be will­ing to dis­cuss stay­ing on as a part of your admin­is­tra­tion. There are so many oppor­tu­ni­ties for improv­ing elec­tions right now through­out the coun­try that I want to use my tal­ents and abil­i­ties to effec­tu­ate the most good. As things cur­rent­ly stand, I can­not do that in Ore­gon, but with your lead­er­ship any­thing is possible.”

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