A lot as transpired during Linda Grist’s 21-year tenure as director of the Cabarrus County Board of Elections.
The Cabarrus native will step down in July as her counterpart, Carol Soles, prepares to usher in new voting laws surrounding new redistricting guidelines.
“There’s always going to be a job to do here, because there’s always going to be laws that change,” said Grist.
Soles, 50, has served as secretary of the Cabarrus Board of Elections for more than a decade. She was appointed by the N.C. State Board of Elections by recommendation from the Cabarrus Board of Elections.
The county commissioners are expected to vote on her $56,681 annual salary at their May 20 meeting. Soles is scheduled to begin work on June 1 and will shadow Grist during her last month as director.
Soles graduated from A.L. Brown High School in 1980 and earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Salem College and a master’s in music from UNC Greensboro. She taught music at Elon University for three years before graduating from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Law in 1992. She returned to Cabarrus County to practice real estate and bankruptcy law.
Soles hasn’t practiced law since she and her husband opened the Dairy Queen in Kannapolis in 2004. She became certified as an N.C. Administrator of Elections in 2007.
The road ahead
Grist said the biggest challenges for her replacement will be the new laws and procedures likely to come down from the State Board of Elections.
Grist said Soles already has a solid understanding of the laws and policies that govern the elections board.
“I really expect it flow smoothly,” said Grist. “She’s been to every training session the state board has had. She’s also certified as an election administrator….”
Grist’s advice to Soles would be to set at least two alarm clocks on Election Day. And, if you don’t know the answer to a question, she advised, say so.
“Never give anyone an answer unless you know it’s the right answer,” said Grist. “To me, that’s the most important thing you can do for your credibility.”
The county commissioners are expected to “roast” Grist at their June 17 meeting.
“When Linda began to talk of retiring, I pondered what a wonderful opportunity it would be…,” said Soles. “I love the detail work and the pride in being involved in the electoral process.”
Soles is looking forward to her first election this fall.
“My vision is to continue with what Linda has established,” she said. “The challenge will be trying to learn all that she has learned over the past 21 years. I hope that the ability to read the law and apply it to the facts at hand will be an asset in my new role.”
Recalling the past
Grist started in 1992 and a year later the National Voting Rights Act passed, which made registering to vote easier. The law went into effect a couple of years later and Grist, and her staff was charged with applying it.
Grist recalled the 1994 ABC elections, when Concord and Kannapolis residents voted on allowing liquor by the drink at restaurants.
“Concord’s was very close, and it lost by one vote,” said Grist. “So we had a recount, and it lost by two or three. Everybody goes through a trial by fire, and that election was my trial by fire.”
“I try to forget that election,” she joked.
Back then, the board didn’t have one-click access to endless amounts of well-organized voting statistics, nor did it have the technology it works with today.
.In 2000, the board started to offer one-stop early voting.
“It was kind of a test, because I don’t think it became law until 2002,” said Grist. “That’s something that really was good for the voter. Before that you had to have an excuse to vote (other than at the polls on Election Day). You had to be sick or know you were going to be out of town for an absentee vote.”
Dedicated and passionate
Grist has never taken more than a week off each year for the past two decades. She’s so loyal to her job that one year, on Election Day, she almost forgot to vote.
“But a person just knows when it’s time to retire,” she said. “I’m kind of a workaholic and now I want to smell the roses.”
Grist plans to spend time with her three children and their children.Grist said her job would have been exponentially harder without her staff.
“My staff is to be admired and I thank them every day they’re here,” she said, recalling bits of advice she’s dished out over the years. “I’ve always told them to document everything and never assume you did something. Always go back and check.”During the years, Grist’s goal has been for voters to be accurately represented, but she admits one of the hardest parts is keeping voters in the loop.
“What we get so much is people saying, ‘I didn’t know …,’ and that’s when people fall through the cracks, and we don’t like to see that happen,” said Grist. “We like everybody who’s eligible to vote to vote, but sometimes you really prepare, prepare and prepare for a party, then nobody comes and you’re really upset and you can’t figure out why.”
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