Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos discusses his decision to retire
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos will step down after nearly a dozen years. The 71-year-old Democrat has had a long career in Vermont politics, having previously served as a state Senator and a South Burlington City Councilor. When he served as President of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Condos testified before Congress on election security and emphasized the importance of operating the office in a non-political and non-partisan manner.
Condos announced Tuesday he will not seek another term. He tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley that after decades of public service it’s time to move into a new chapter of his life.
I've been involved in politics now for 35-plus years. And you know, I was a city councilor for 18 years. I was a state Senator for eight years and now it's been 12 years as Secretary of State. We really accomplished most of what I set out to do. The last thing, which I think is going to be an ongoing battle, is combating disinformation misinformation. But we're making strides in that area as well. But defending our democracy has always been front and center for me.
The national acrimony regarding voting challenges and fair and open voting, did that affect your decision at all?
No that had nothing to do with my decision. You know the sad situation where disinformation is just creating this animosity toward election officials who have been basically retiring, leaving across this country, that was not a factor for me partly because I think Vermont's a little bit different than most states. We're pretty voter friendly already. It is disheartening to me to see what some of the states are putting in place: these obstructions and barriers to the ballot box. But we've done things the right way here in Vermont and usually we have tri-partisan support from pretty much every initiative that we've taken on.
What have you been doing as Secretary of State to make changes in elections and election security in Vermont?
From the election security standpoint the first thing we did was we looked at our own election databases. We had five different modules and they weren't connected. So the first thing we did was in 2015 was we put everything onto one platform. But you know you can't sit back especially in the area of cybersecurity. The bad actors are always looking for ways to get in and you have to try to stay ahead of them. And it may not be that you know what they're going to do but you have to put your defenses in place so that you are able to defend. Good example: 2018. Just before the election we received, my IT manager came to see me and said that he had in the log from the night before we had three attempted intrusions. The country of origin Russia. And we reported that to the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Internet Security and within 24 hours they had notified all 50 states to be on the lookout. So this is the kind of stuff that we didn't have before was communication and now we do.
Jim Condos you are a Democrat and the Secretary of State is an elective office. When you made your announcement yesterday that you were retiring you noted that it was important that you maintain a nonpartisan office. We've seen across the country particularly in the last year, last year and a half or so, attacks on secretaries of state offices for how they've been handling the elections, claims that they haven't been nonpartisan. How difficult is it to maintain a nonpartisan perspective when you actually have to go out and run in an election to get into that office?
Well, it certainly is, I wouldn't say problematic. I'd say it's it's it's a balancing act. The way the system is set up we run as a Democrat or Republican or Progressive or an Independent. That means when I get in this office though, when I've been elected I instruct my entire team, not just elections but everybody whether it's Professional Regulation, the State Archives, we treat everybody the same. That's the first thing. And we follow the law. And that's the approach. If for instance a Democrat came out and was wrong I would say so. People have to do what's right not necessarily what's right for the party. And I think lately at the national level you've seen Adam Kinzinger, a Republican representative, who has been stating that very thing. We need to deal with a country first party is like second or third in the list.
Jim Condos, you've been Secretary of State in Vermont 12 years. As you look back at your tenure, what are you most proud of? What do you think are your greatest accomplishments?
Well, I think at the very top would have to be the fact that we ran this office nonpartisan fashion, But behind that is the movement from paper driven systems to actual electronic or digital environment. When I first took office we had almost 0% activity being completed online and now we're up around 98%. Every day that goes by we post more records, more data, more information on our website. We're considered to have one of the best websites in state government. That's probably number one because everything else flows from that. But I think also we've done some huge changes in elections. We've removed barriers from voting and made it easier for people to register while still maintaining the credibility that needs to be kept. We've also done things like in Professional Regulation we've removed red tape. We've reviewed our different professions that we oversee so that it works for everybody, that we're still providing the public mission, which is to protect the public. You know in the archives we're protecting all of our most precious documents while also working with state agencies on improving their records management. And corporations, which is the place where business has to come, when a business wanted to file for a new registration it used to take literally up to 15 days to do that. Today it's done in less than 30 minutes. Annual Reports. When corporations have to file an annual report, which they have to do every year, we would have such a backlog it would take us 10 weeks or more to process everything. Now it's done instantaneously. We've got the systems in place that makes us more efficient.
When you made your announcement of your retirement you said that you don't have any specific plans as you look forward to it. Are you at all tentative about stepping into this new and unknown chapter?
Not at all. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to spending time with family. I've got two grandkids. My partner has two grandkids. We're looking to spend more time and we're looking to travel. So there's I think we'll find plenty of stuff to do. You know we're both workaholics and I think we will probably both volunteer. So you know we'll be busy. We'll be busy.
And you'll be busy through the end of the year because your term obviously is over right now.
It's not and we have an important election to run this year.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos’ term ends January 1st.