Voting

Bell County Elections Administrator Melinda Luedecke explains  in September 2018 how residents will use the new touch-screen based ExpressVote if they opt to use it to submit their ballots during the upcoming Nov. 6 elections. The Bell County Elections Department walked elected and party officials through the new voting equipment that will be used in the Nov. 6 elections.

BELTON — Bell County Elections Administrator Melinda Luedecke will resign from her position on Sept. 8 — just weeks ahead of the mid-October start of early voting for the Nov. 3 elections.

The Bell County Elections Commission on Monday unanimously accepted Luedecke’s letter of resignation and retirement. In another unanimous decision, it also appointed Matthew Dutton, the assistant elections administrator, to temporarily lead the Elections Department through Election Day.

The commission is composed of Bell County Judge David Blackburn; County Clerk Shelley Coston; Tax Assessor-Collector Shay Luedecke; Nancy Boston, chairman of the local Republican Party; and Chris Rosenberg, chairman of the county Democratic Party.

“While this was a very tough decision to make and after much consideration, I feel that after three years of no raise or increase in compensation my responsibility to my family is and should be my highest priority,” Luedecke told Blackburn in her resignation letter, obtained by the Telegram through an open records request. “With circumstances as they are, I feel I won’t be able to give the full commitment necessary as head of the Elections Department in this very important election year.”

The Elections Commission hired Luedecke in July 2017 after the elections administrator at the time, Shawn Snyder, resigned to move to Washington state.

The salary for the position in 2017 was $60,515 then increased to $61,726 in 2018, according to the county’s budget. Luedecke’s salary increased again in 2019 to $62,962. Then, in the current budget, her pay was cut to $59,340, according to the financial document.

The elections administrator salary was set to go up to $60,762 in the 2021 budget, which will go into effect on Oct. 1, according to the document.

“It is with great sadness that I must leave the county after 28 years of employment,” Luedecke wrote. “I would like to thank Bell County for the opportunities that were afforded to me while employed.”

Five residents expressed their concerns to the Elections Commission over Luedecke’s decision to leave her job.

“As a citizen, I am very concerned about this process and how close it is coming up (to the election),” Killeen resident Melissa Brown said.

Temple resident Pamela Ann Cleveland, a voter registrar, echoed Brown.

“We’re here to ensure that we will receive the same fair, just and equitable elections that we have had when working with (Luedecke),” said Cleveland, a member of Black Ladies Advancing Qualitative and Quantitative Change, a group advocating for improvements in the black community.

The county judge reassured the residents this year’s election will run as smoothly as possible.

“From my standpoint, the only acceptable measure for a good election is a perfect election,” Blackburn said.

Dutton, the interim elections administrator, reminded the residents that while Luedecke is leaving, the rest of the department will still be there for the election.

“I have full confidence in the staff members in my office. They have been nothing but good to me and to the voters of Bell County, and I don’t suspect any of that will change,” he said.

Dutton has worked on elections for the county government since 2011. He started out in the office of the Bell County clerk, who used to run elections until the administrator role was created in 2013.

“Basically almost just anything and everything I have helped and assisted with the election process in Bell County,” Dutton said, listing off some of his work experience that includes handling ballot-by-mail requests, setting up polling locations and getting workers for voting locations.

Coston told the commission and residents that she is confident Dutton will step up and “do an excellent job” running the county’s elections.

“I believe (Dutton) is a very good bet to get us through this election,” the county clerk said. “I think he will certainly do us proud.”

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