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An Unexpected Reunion

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An Unexpected Reunion

Scott Borling '97 pictured along with his family. Photo courtesy of Scott Borling.

by Cheryl (Warren) Brugel '90

March 2, 2009

Last September, two Cedarville graduates — Scott Borling ’97 and Mark Totten ’96 — had an unexpected reunion in an unexpected place … at the Kalamazoo, Michigan, city clerk’s office.

No, they did not “run into each other” while filling out their voter registration cards. Instead, they were both working in different arenas of the Kalamazoo election process. Their differing roles brought them together by surprise, allowing two Cedarville University graduates to play a key part in the Kalamazoo elections to ensure voters had a good experience on Election Day.

Borling has been the city clerk in Kalamazoo since 2005. Although he never envisioned himself as a city clerk when he graduated from Cedarville, he now sees it as a good fit. He shares that he never considered himself very political, which is good, because as city clerk he must stay “above politics” and be neutral.

Borling oversees the election process, which includes hiring election officials for each precinct, testing the voting machines, and dealing with all issues that arise on the day of election. Knowing that presidential elections always bring strong turnout and potential for unforeseen problems, Borling and his officials began planning in the fall of 2006 for the 2008 elections. His goal: to ensure that the election process in Kalamazoo ran smoothly.

Totten is a law professor at Michigan State University (MSU) College of Law, teaching in the areas of criminal law, national security law, and legal ethics; he has been at MSU since the summer of 2008. Before coming to MSU, Totten worked in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Department of Justice handling various civil appeals and then as a clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

After returning to his hometown of Kalamazoo, Totten was asked by the lead attorney of the Michigan Democratic Party to serve as county counsel for the Obama campaign in Kalamazoo County. As a volunteer for the campaign, his primary role was to run the local voter protection program in Kalamazoo. He also trained other lawyers working on the Obama legal team in southwestern Michigan. His goal: to make sure every voter wanting to vote had the opportunity and to be sure every vote got counted.

With similar goals — seeing to a smooth and fair election process — it would seem that Borling and Totten’s responsibilities would lead to a very natural partnership. However, both Borling and Totten explain that this is not usually the case. Leading up to the election, Borling shares that he was contacted by many interest groups requesting meetings and asking questions about procedures.

According to Borling, local election officials tend to be suspicious of these advocacy groups because they often try to “paint the local election officials into a corner” using unethical tactics. Therefore, these requests for meetings are usually met with a “no.” Totten echoes these sentiments, saying, “Often the relationship between a political party and an election administrator is marked by suspicion and distrust.” In Kalamazoo County’s 2008 presidential election, however, the opposite proved true.

When Totten called the Kalamazoo city clerk to request a meeting to preview election preparations, he was surprised to be talking to Scott Borling. He remembered Borling from his Cedarville days as they both had been in the honors program and had taken several courses together. But he had no idea Borling was living in Michigan — let alone working as the Kalamazoo city clerk! And Borling was surprised as well.

Not only did he remember Totten, but he also had attended the church in Kalamazoo where Totten had grown up and had met Totten’s Mom. Because of these past connections, Borling knew he could trust Totten to do his job ethically. Thus, a meeting that would normally never have been granted was arranged.

Both Totten and Borling look back on their initial meeting and their “partnership” in working on behalf of the Kalamazoo election process as positive. Totten shares, “Borling and his team did an amazing job. They faced extraordinary challenges given the massive turnouts expected at the polls.” Borling agrees that their initial meeting and subsequent phone calls went very well.

As the election grew closer, Totten and Borling communicated regularly on the phone. On Election Day, Totten had a direct line to Borling’s office, allowing them to work together quickly to solve the few issues that arose.

While it would be nice to think that it was “just because of Cedarville” that Totten and Borling were able to enjoy a good partnership, it would not be the complete truth. Their ability to work together came from a deeper commitment — one strengthened while on the Cedarville campus and honed after graduation. Both were committed to honoring God in the way they carried out their jobs.

For Totten, this included seeing government as a gift from God and caring about politics and the pursuit of the common good. When asked to work as a lawyer for a political campaign, he agreed, seeing it as one way he could be involved in the political process and help ensure all had the opportunity to vote. For Borling, honoring God meant carrying out his job as city clerk to the best of his abilities.

During the election season, it included accurately processing the hundreds of new voter applications coming in from the local university and handling concerns in a timely and professional manner. For both, it includes having integrity and being trustworthy so that no matter the situation, Christ will be evident.

Totten shares, “Cedarville starts from the premise that faith has something to say about everything — the arts, science, politics, business, and every other area of study.” Whether as a lawyer advocating on behalf of a political party or as a city clerk ensuring an election runs smoothly, Totten and Borling demonstrate the importance of bringing one’s faith into what often feels like the “daily grind” of work.

In an arena often marked by distrust, unethical behavior, and rhetorical spin, it is refreshing to know that two Cedarville graduates were able to live out their faith during a political season and come together to work on behalf of the citizens of Kalamazoo. Not only was the city of Kalamazoo better served, but Christ was honored.