By Pete Kennedy
Anthony Albence didn’t realize he was preparing for a job safeguarding democracy when he’d listen to college kids try to wriggle out of being punished for sneaking alcohol into their dorms.
In the early 1990s, as he worked on his master’s degree in urban affairs and public policy at the University of Delaware, Albence served as resident director at one of the school’s dormitories. He oversaw six resident assistants and was responsible for about 200 undergraduates, some of whom tried to spirit spirits into the building stuffed in boxes and bags, separated by sweatshirts to prevent clinking.
“It really put me out of my comfort zone in the sense of developing a lot of skills that I use every day — public speaking and presentation skills, and the disciplinary skills and enforcing things,” he said. “We are governed by laws. The law is the law.”
Albence, 45, now works for the Delaware Department of Elections as director of the New Castle County office. He makes sure election laws are followed and that his staff carries out its mission in a transparent, fair way. But his role also involves fostering innovation — incorporating new ideas and technology to better serve the public interest. Delaware was a leader in integrating its voter-registration process with its driver-registration process, for example.
He is also a member of the Election Center’s Postal Task Force, a group of election officials who work with the U.S. Postal Service to refine the processes for election-related mail, including information sent to voters and the growing number of ballots cast by mail.
The most challenging part of his job, Albence said, is combating myths and rumors about elections.
“This election cycle, there’s been a lot of talk about ‘rigged elections.’ That’s challenging — to ensure that we get the word out that we have a tremendous number of checks and balances and a lot of safeguards in our system, assuring folks that our system is well-founded, well-grounded, secure, transparent and nonpartisan,” he said.
Albence developed a taste for public policy while interning in Sen. Joe Biden’s office during his years at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He has worked as assistant vice president at Suncorp Bank, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, and director of the AmeriCorps program at UD. The common theme of his career, he said, has been a desire to serve and improve his community.
A Wilmington native who still lives in the city proper, Albence has a fierce dedication to the institutions that shaped him, namely St. Anthony of Padua Parish and Salesianum School. He’s a fourth-generation member of St. Anthony’s, and his great-grandparents on both sides helped to found the church.
His mother worked in banking, and his father had a career working for Verizon. Albence said they sacrificed so they could send him to Salesianum and his sister to Padua Academy.
“We had a comfortable life, not wealthy by any means, but we never wanted for anything,” Albence said. “My parents instilled that sense of service and giving back. It was clear my whole life that that was an expectation, not a negative expectation or an onerous expectation — it was a positive thing. It was a family tradition, all the way back for generations. So I knew I was part of a tradition and a history, and it’s something I enjoy doing.”
Albence is involved in many ways with St. Anthony’s, as a parish trustee and a member of the finance committee, the festival committee and the grade-school advisory board. He is a former president and current member of the Catholic University alumni association board. He is also on the board of directors of Catholic Charities, and he works often with the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pa.
Albence is a member of the Delaware Italian-American Education Association and even helped to start the Italian-American Herald. He has also stayed active with his high-school alma mater, including serving on the alumni association board.
“My little nephew, Julian, he’s only 3. He’s going to be the Class of 2031,” Albence said with a laugh. “He’s all set. He doesn’t have a choice. I already have the shirt.”
The practical wisdom of St. Francis de Sales has been a guiding force in Albence’s life. Two phrases, in particular, have stuck with him.
“‘Be who you are, and be that well,’ and ‘Do the ordinary extraordinarily well.’ Those are watchwords in my life,” Albence said.
In his free time, Albence enjoys traveling, especially seeing capital cities. He has visited every capital in North America, except for one: Iqaluit, the arctic capital of the Canadian province of Nunavut, where transportation is mainly by snowmobile and, to a lesser extent, dogsled. He has plans to travel there someday.