Director of Elections
Durham County, North Carolina
In recognition of Black History Month and the upcoming 2024 election cycle, we sat down with Derek Bowens, a member of CSSE and current Elections Director in Durham County, NC to recognize the critical role that Black election officials and law enforcement play in our democracy and keeping our elections safe and secure.
Can you describe your current or past role in [elections/law enforcement]?
I am currently an Elections Director in Durham County, North Carolina, and run all aspects of election administration for the fifth largest election jurisdiction in the State of North Carolina. I have been an elections administrator for 10 years in two different North Carolina jurisdictions.
Can you elaborate on the scope of your role?
I was appointed by a five-member quasi-judicial board that has delegated all administrative functions of the office to me. My responsibilities include overseeing a full-time staff of 10 and over 1,000 temporary workers, administration of absentee ballots, voter registration services, campaign finance auditing, project management, and much more.
With respect to the Black experience in America and your being a member of CSSE, can you expound on the importance of ensuring that our elections are free, fair, and secure?
Considering the struggle to obtain full suffrage rights in the United States of America, it is critically important that all persons of color not experience any level of restriction when attempting to access the ballot box. This is ensured by establishing laws and policies that protect free, fair, and secure elections. The work of the committee plays a vital part in protecting the franchise not only for people of color, but for all.
Do you see a need for more Black representation in your field? If yes, why do you want to see more Black representation in your field?
Yes, but based on merit and not merely race. I know there is plenty of untapped talent among Black Americans who can do this most critical work.
I think it is important that we have equitable representation amongst the nation’s election administrators, especially in minority communities. As a Black American, there is a level of comfort when dealing with entities that are diverse in makeup.
Can you share some of your proudest accomplishments in your field and highlight specific actions you have taken to support and advance democracy?
The greatest accomplishment in my career has been reestablishing a culture of excellent elections in Durham County. We went from a perceived problem county prior in 2017 to a multiple national award-winning office today. In terms of supporting the advancement of democracy, I believe the work of election administration is the greatest contribution I’ve made to the preservation of democracy outside of voting. Election administrators are truly frontline defenders of democracy.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share about Black History Month?
I find it wonderful that CSSE has taken the time to highlight Black History Month. Our collective history and excellence in service to our country merits continual elevation.
Read more in this series: Q&As with Captain Harold Love.