BEAUFORT — Caitlin Sabadish has been in her role as the new director of the County Board of Elections for just about a month, and there’s been a lot to learn, but the freshman director says things seem to be going well, so far.
Ms. Sabadish’s first day on the job was Oct. 21, just about two weeks before municipal elections took place Nov. 5. She had no prior experience in elections when she took the position, and she said her first month has flown by as she gets acquainted to the job.
“I can’t believe it’s already been a month,” she said from the Board of Elections office in Beaufort Tuesday. “A lot of people ask me (how it was coming in the middle of an election) and I say it’s like I’ve been inside a tornado. It’s been kind of crazy and it’s a lot to learn, but it is really exciting.”
Ms. Sabadish said she didn’t realize how much planning and legwork goes into conducting elections, but she’s a fast learner and she enjoys the quick pace of the BOE office. She also said the existing elections board and BOE staff, especially Deputy Director Margot Burke, have helped her transition into her new role.
“Everybody has been super helpful, especially not knowing anything, any question that I ask they are more than willing to help me out and explain the situation,” Ms. Sabadish said. “…The board, they’re helpful too, keeping me on track, reminding me of deadlines and things like that. They’re making my transition as smooth as possible, which I do appreciate.”
The State Board of Elections has also been a useful resource as Ms. Sabadish settles in, she said. She recently attended a new directors’ training Nov. 18-21 in Raleigh to learn more about the specifics of her job duties, such as how to order ballots and set up voting machines. She will also need to attend a conference in February in order to be certified by the state BOE, which she is required to do within three years of being hired.
The local BOE office has experienced frequent staff turnover in recent years. Ms. Sabadish is the BOE’s first permanent director since former Director Steve Hines resigned March 29 after less than a year on the job. Ms. Burke served as interim director, while Shawne Southard was interim deputy director until she departed the office in October.
Now that municipal elections are over, Ms. Sabadish said the BOE office has turned its attention to the presidential primaries taking place in March. Details for that race, including polling locations, need to be finalized by Monday, Dec. 9. In addition, the office is preparing for candidate filing for local elections to open Monday.
“I’m kind of starting to understand that there is no break (between elections),” Ms. Sabadish said. “We just finished up with Nov. 5 (elections), it’s a hectic two weeks after that until canvass and then boom, as soon as that’s done we’re rolling right into preparations for the next one.”
The new director said she’s glad she got to experience a smaller-scale election before jumping directly into the 2020 races. Ms. Sabadish said although she missed out on a lot of the preparations for the municipal election, she is learning as she goes and feels she will be ready to tackle next year’s higher-profile elections.
“I am very grateful that I was here for that (municipal) election, even though I came kind of in the middle of it, I’m glad that I at least have some idea of what’s going on so when we roll into this big one that I’ve got some experience,” she said.
Ms. Sabadish, who is originally from the Harrisburg, Pa. area, graduated with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and criminology and a minor in sociology from the University of Mount Olive in 2016, and she received a master’s in business administration from Mount Olive in August 2017. She said she was recruited to play lacrosse at Mount Olive, and after spending her college career in North Carolina, she decided she wanted to stay in the South.
“That was one of my criteria even when I was looking at schools, I wanted to go somewhere warm,” she said. “My family had always vacationed down in North Carolina and South Carolina and always really liked the area, and then came to school down here and kind of just stuck around.”
Another thing Ms. Sabadish said she likes about the South and Carteret County specifically is how welcoming everybody has been.
“Everybody is super nice, which is something you don’t find as much up north, not to talk bad about them, but it’s different here,” she said. “…It was super charming.”
After graduating with her master’s, Ms. Sabadish briefly worked for the New Bern Sun Journal delivering newspapers in downtown New Bern, then she worked for a law firm in Trenton specializing in tax foreclosure law. When she came across the opening for BOE director position, even though she had no elections experience, she decided to take a chance and apply.
“I was applying for jobs and this just seemed like a really good opportunity,” she said. “I don’t have any background in elections, but it just seemed like a good opportunity, and even though I don’t have any experience in this, I know I’m a quick learner and thought I’d catch on and I was ready to jump right in it.”
Overall, Ms. Sabadish said she’s glad she seized the opportunity and the BOE decided to give her a chance.
“I’m just excited to be here,” she said, “and excited to learn.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.