On the beat: Hennepin County's new elections director takes on first contest in permanent role

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON
  • Star Tribune
  • April 26, 2014 - 6:38 PM


Hennepin County Elections Manager Ginny Gelms got into her job like many of her colleagues in the field — accidentally.

“I kind of fell into it, and then I fell in love with it,” said Gelms, who leads the behind-the-scenes logistics for elections in the state’s most populous county.

An English and linguistics major at Northwestern University, Gelms spent a short time in the private sector but “didn’t find that particularly fulfilling.”

While her husband attended law school, she took a technical job in the elections division for Johnson County, Iowa, based in Iowa City.

Eventually, the couple moved to Minneapolis, where she worked in the city’s elections division, handling many technical aspects of the city’s first ranked-choice-voting election in 2009. After serving as acting Minneapolis elections director, Gelms moved to Hennepin County as a deputy to Rachel Bohman, who left last year.

Much of Gelms’ work goes unnoticed because it involves planning and preparation from inking contracts for ballots to training others to train election judges. She views the job — and safe, fair elections — as foundational to democracy. She says her work is “doing all the things that need to happen to make democracy happen” while “making it smooth enough that people don’t think about it.”

By that measure, she’s successful enough that when people find out what she does, they sometimes ask, “Is that a full-time job?”

It is — especially on Election Day, when she and her staff start before the polls open and stay long after they close. On her first working Election Day, she made a rookie mistake. “I wore heels,” she said. “You need to wear sneakers on Election Day.”

She still gets butterflies in the lead up to election days — and knocks on wood when she hears the word “recount” — but said she has the best job in the world.

“At the end of the day, I wanted my work to matter,” she said, adding that because her work is nonpartisan, she is able to serve everyone.

Tuesday’s primary marks her first election as the permanent director rather than the acting one.

Twitter: @rochelleolson

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