Shadows of people standing in line to vote.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

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The head of the D.C. Board of Elections does not live in D.C. and is not registered to vote here. 

Yet she has been running D.C.’s elections since July 2016—after the board reappointed her to the post and waived a decade-old residency requirement for her to occupy the position. District law says that the executive director of DCBOE must be “a District resident throughout his or her term,” adding that “failure to maintain District residency shall result in a forfeiture of the position.”

The waiver appears unprecedented for the role. Even since before 2008, when D.C. lawmakers codified the residency provision as part of a broader effort to ensure District government leaders live in D.C., multiple DCBOE directors have had a home in the city. Some moved from far-away regions like the South and Midwest to do the messy, unglamorous job of administering democracy.

“This is the first time it’s ever happened,” says Ken McGhie, DCBOE’s veteran general counsel.

The situation raises questions about the residency status of D.C. agency leaders and how the rule of law is applied. In the midst of a local election year, it also adds a new irony to a well-documented history of the board’s missteps and mistakes, including vote-counting delays, fickle voting machines, dead people on voter rolls, and scrambled voter party-affiliations. In 2014, DCBOE voter guides even displayed upside-down D.C. flags.

Current DCBOE Director Alice P. Miller lives in upper Silver Spring with her husband. The couple owns a 6,500-square-foot home registered as their “principal residence,” per Maryland property records. It’s been registered as such for nearly a decade. They bought the property for more than $1.2 million in 2007.

An experienced elections official at both the local and federal levels, Miller collected $173,891 in annual salary as of December. Before her present tenure, she served as the director of DCBOE from the 1990s until 2008, when she left the board to take an executive role at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent federal agency. DCBOE rehired Miller to its chief staff position following a national search that launched in 2015, after its previous director stepped down.

A June 2016 press release announcing Miller’s reappointment called her “a passionate and dedicated advocate for increasing voter registration and turnout and improving elections administration.” “Ms. Miller is no stranger to DCBOE and knows the progress the agency has made as well as its current challenges,” the release added.

But less than two weeks before DCBOE unveiled Miller’s selection as director, she wasn’t listed as a registered voter in rolls the board published in May 2016. That data dump caused some concern because people were surprised to see their addresses posted online.

As of last month, three “Alice Millers” were registered to vote in the District, but two had different middle initials than Miller. The third does not have a middle initial listed in voter rolls obtained by City Paper, but is registered at an address in Southeast. The District has about 474,000 registered voters.

Miller did not respond to requests for comment. A call to a Maryland number associated with her Silver Spring home led to a voicemail greeting in which a male voice stated, “You’ve reached the Miller residence.” 

The same year the couple purchased their Silver Spring home, they also refinanced a mortgage and took out a home-equity credit line on a home they then owned in D.C.’s Takoma neighborhood, District property records show. In 2010, they received a foreclosure notice on that home from Wells Fargo Bank, and the home was sold in an auction a month later to Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., also known as Freddie Mac.

EAC, the federal commission where Miller formerly worked, is based in downtown Silver Spring. She served as chief operating officer, and then for three years as acting executive director there.

“There isn’t any reason not to return,” Miller told the now-defunct DCist in 2016, regarding her motivations for rejoining DCBOE. “It’s a committed group of folks.”

In a brief phone call on Tuesday, DCBOE Chair Michael Bennett essentially confirmed Miller’s Maryland residency. “It is not news to me, but you’re better off talking with her,” he said, adding that he had to get on another call. In February 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser nominated Bennett to the three-member board for a term to end this coming July after the June primary takes place.

Asked to confirm that the board waived the residency requirement for Miller to hold her position, Bennett deferred to McGhie, DCBOE’s general counsel, who had previously detailed the waiver in an interview. In an email, Bennett declined to comment on how D.C. voters might view Miller’s role, given that she resides in Maryland. “Any response would be speculative at best,” he wrote.

The office of Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who chairs the D.C. Council’s judiciary committee, says in a statement that he plans to “raise the topic” of Miller’s residency at an oversight hearing on DCBOE scheduled for March 8.

McGhie says the board contracted with headhunters to conduct a nationwide search for the new executive director from 2015 to 2016. He says about a dozen candidates were finalists, but Miller emerged as the favorite because of her experience and because other candidates didn’t meet the board’s expectations “for one reason or another.” She had even been assisting the outgoing interim director, Terri Stroud, McGhie recalls. Miller “already knew the procedure,” he says.

As an independent body, DCBOE has its own “personnel authority” to make hires apart from the mayoral administration. McGhie says the board determined that the position was “hard to fill,” in part because some candidates were unqualified or ultimately unwilling to relocate to the District. So they opted to grant Miller the D.C.-residency waiver before installing her as the new director.

McGhie says it’s conceivable that the board was not able to find a qualified local candidate for the job. “The elections area is such a small expertise that if you go to a conference for election officials, everybody knows everybody,” he notes. “That’s how small the world is.”

“There are only a certain amount of people who are qualified to run an election,” he adds.

This post has been updated with comment from Allen’s office.