By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Cheryl Howard has dedicated many years ensuring the integrity of the state’s and county’s election system, a job she has cherished from the beginning. That time is coming to an end, as she is entering a new phase in retirement, but pledges to remain in Kay County and assist with elections, even in retirement.
“I have loved working with the Election Board, it is the best job I’ve had,” she said. “I’ve loved other jobs I’ve had, but this job is special.”
Howard lives in Tonkawa, but has dutifully made the drive to Newkirk since 1991, when she began a role in the Kay County Treasurer’s office, under Betty Greenwood, where she served as treasurer for dependent schools. In 1993, a position came open in the Election Board, and she applied for the position. She was to be the assistant to Secretary Carol Kellum. She served in that role until 2011, when Kellum retired.
Under state laws, election board secretaries must be nominated for the position of Secretary. Howard was nominated by former State Sen. David Myers, and the State Election Approved her in 2011.
The State Election Board is considered to be among the best in the country. Howard worked tirelessly to help maintain that integrity in Kay County, which included city, county, state and federal elections, as well as school board elections, from public schools like Newkirk and Kildare, to higher education, including Northern Oklahoma College and Pioneer Technology Center.
“We are highly regarded by other states’ election boards,” she said. “They have come to Oklahoma to see how Oklahoma runs our Election system, because ours is safe and secure, and we have a ballot backup system,” she said.
To Election Board takes its job seriously, as voting is one of the most important civil liberties.
“This is how our democracy starts – registering to vote, and participating in electoral systems,” Howard said.
In Kay County, that process involves 28 precincts, each with three precinct officials, in 26 individual polling places.
“As the Election Board Secretary, you’re required to be sure the polling places are open, and ready to go on Election Day,” Howard said.
In addition to opening polling locations and ensuring voting identifications, the Election Board also speaks to groups on the importance of the electoral system.
“We speak to other organizations about voting, and the importance of voting and participating in the electoral system,” she said.
Howard is not leaving Kay County, but is leaving Tonkawa for Ponca City, while still pledging to help Election Board as needed.
Replacing Howard is Assistant Secretary Carol Leaming, who has served the Election Board since 1994, full-time since 1996. She is ready to step forward and continue serving the Kay County Election Board.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I have learned the operation of two new systems for the State of Oklahoma, so I’m ready to learn the next part of the job,” Leaming said.
As for Howard, she knows she is leaving the Election Board in good hands with Leaming moving the department forward.
“I’m going to miss my precinct officers, who have done a great job, the Election Board members, but I’m leaving them in the very capable hands of Carole Leaming, who will be the new Secretary of the Election Board,” Howard said.