Jamie Six reflects on past 26 years as Wood clerk
PARKERSBURG – Wood County Clerk Jamie Six shouldn’t have any trouble reflecting on his 26 years in office with the help of 10 scrapbooks his mom kept over the years.
“She was scrapbooking before it became so popular,” Six said. “She kept everything, newspaper clippings, everything from the first campaign on.”
Six earlier announced he would resign effective July 31 to pursue other interests and, at the top of the list, spend more time with family.
He is the longest serving county clerk in Wood County.
As a newcomer to politics, Six took on incumbent county clerk H.K. Smith in 1986 when he ran the first time. He said he decided to run after visiting the courthouse to watch the 1984 election process.
“I started asking questions, and some friends challenged me if I was interested, I should run,” he said. At the time he was working at Diamond Glass. They had announced they were closing, but the possibility of a job with the company in California was a possibility.
“I had also taken the Civil Service exam for the Parkersburg Police Department. In fact, three weeks prior to the election, I was called by the Parkersburg Police Department to go to the police academy. Since it was a Civil Service position, I would have had to resign from the election. I had to make a decision, not knowing what the outcome of the election was going to be. It was difficult,” he said.
“I decided I couldn’t not see the election through, not only I had spent about $6,000 of my own money, but others had donated to my campaign as well, and I didn’t think it was fair to bail out,” he said.
Six won by 48 votes.
Going in Six said he had some reservations about the election, even the newspaper had endorsed his Republican opponent. But Six did some old-fashioned footwork, literally going door to door to personally meet and greet residents.
“We sent out postcards announcing I was going to be in a neighborhood, then I personally knocked on each door. I left a door hanger if no one came to the door,” he said. “Even the newspaper gave me credit for running a ‘yeoman’s campaign,” Six said.
Between the election and taking office in January, Six said he visited a number of other clerks’ offices including Kanawha and Cabell counties.
“I was at a disadvantage because I hadn’t worked in the office. I visited the other offices to get ideas of how they ran their offices. I continued doing that throughout my time here, to see what others were doing better than we were, then incorporate that into our work plan,” he said.
When Six took over the office there were 21 employees, now there are 16.
“Through technology and employees stepping up and working harder, we were able to consolidate some functions over the course of the years,” he said.
Six said his biggest concern coming in was the security of county records.
“Some had been microfilmed by the Mormon Church, but there was no secure off-site storage, so we took on that project. We had all the records that weren’t already on microfilm, put on microfilm. They still exist today. They are housed off-site in the event of a disaster at the courthouse, so we can reproduce the records. We also scan documents now, and those computer records are also stored off-site. That and running the elections were the two main functions I saw,” Six said.
The county moved from punch cards to optical scan to the current touchscreens for elections during Six’s tenure.
“We had to program the punchcards, and one year we made a mistake in the program for the Republican House of Delegates candidates. It was a vote for five, and we had it for four. The mistake was found during the canvass, that’s why we do canvasses. Once we realized the handcount wasn’t matching up to the computer count, we investigated, publicly announced the error. Working with the secretary of state and prosecutor, we changed the punchcard program and ran all the election cards again. Ironically even though everyone got more votes, it did not change the order of who won and who lost,” Six said.
“We then went to optical scan during the election when George Bush ran against Al Gore. During the primary, it was raining, and we had a horrible time trying to get the cards to run through the computer. We worked until 6 in the morning getting the results. Everyone was questioning why we switched from the punchcards to optical scan. I was being criticized for that. Then in November, there was all the pregnant chads and hanging chads in Florida, and when the public saw what was going on, they realized I was correct in switching. It validated the change from punchcards because they could see the issues. The punchcard equipment was getting older. You couldn’t buy replacement parts any longer. The technology just wasn’t being supported and updated,” he said.
After the Help America Vote Act, there was federal money available to have a machine available in every precinct that would allow someone who was blind or illiterate to vote without assistance. “So we switched to the touchscreens with the aid of federal funds and interest-free loan,” Six said.
During Six’s tenure some records were placed online.
“We still have the hard copy here, technology helped keep traffic down at the courthouse and helps maintain the books longer, you don’t have as much wear and tear of people handling them. We also worked with attorneys and real estate offices to fax requests in, and they are billed monthly, so we didn’t lose the revenue stream,” he said.
Six said he had also hoped to make all the county’s voting precincts accessible to those with disabilities, and there are only seven remaining. He said those efforts will continue after he’s left office.
“I went into that election that first time, with the attitude that even if I didn’t win, the experience was well worth the journey. It was a bonus we won. There’s more to running for public office than just winning,” he said.
“One of the clues to our success is getting the right people around you then letting them do their job,” Six said. “That’s what I will miss the most, I have and have had wonderful employees. It’s more than just a job, the relationships you build,” he said.
During his time in office, Six has served with two circuit clerks, two sheriffs, five prosecutors, five assessors and 11 county commissioners. At the state level, he’s worked with four secretaries of state and six governors.