Gaston County elections director followed a long and winding path to his job

These days, the Gaston County Board of Elections is like a speeding train getting a little bit faster. With his hand on the throttle, engineer Adam Ragan ’96 keeps things on track. Elections are his passion. The Nov. 6 general election was the fifth since Ragan became Gaston’s elections director.

A desire to help people led Adam Ragan ’96 into public service. Photo by Jeff Willhelm of the Charlotte Observer

Ragan came to Gaston County from the State Board of Elections in Raleigh, where he was a compliance specialist in the campaign finance division. His job was to make sure committees and candidates filed campaign finance reports on time. Before that, he was a political consultant with a firm in Tampa, Fla., a job he took after working as a campaign finance analyst with the Federal Election Commission in Washington. Ragan knows elections inside and out.

His story starts in Watauga County, part of an Army family that lived all over the country. Because his dad had a fear of flying, the family traveled by car, always taking different routes so they could see the country. Sitting in the back seat, Ragan and his older sister watched changing landscapes – the Midwest, the salt flats of Utah, rugged Wyoming. Ragan thinks he was younger than 10 when he decided he wanted to do government work when he grew up. “To me, government was one big thing – I didn’t have any idea of how it worked,” he said. “But I wanted to do something to help people.”

After his time at WCU, he landed the job in Washington. During 7 1/2 years there, Ragan soaked up a lot of history. On Sept. 11, 2001, he witnessed history in the making. Sent home early after the terrorist attacks, he rode the metro and saw flames shooting out of the Pentagon. The smell still haunts him: burning embers, like a campfire except “it didn’t have the joy of a campfire.”

As Election Day 2012 approached, Ragan’s goal was to register everybody who’s eligible and then get a 100 percent voter turnout. He knew that wouldn’t happen. But he didn’t stop urging folks to come out. What candidate they voted for wasn’t his concern; he just wanted people to vote.

Written by Joe DePriest and printed in edited format with permission of the Charlotte Observer.