I. In Focus This Week
Growing Wide and Deep:
Two Strategies to Expand the Field of Election Administration
Election Academy – University of Minnesota
On Monday, I participated via video in a University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy symposium entitled "Blueprint to Implementation: Election Administration Reform for 2014, 2016 and Beyond."
At the tail end of that short video (view it here), I was asked what it will take to expand the profession of election administration in the foreseeable future.
A short version of that answer appears on the video, but I wanted to use the opportunity here to flesh out where I see the field of elections growing over the next few years – in particular, in recruiting and retaining election administrators for the long term future of the American system of elections.
The first strategy is to broaden the awareness of the scope of election administration to illuminate just how varied and interesting the work really is. As I said here at electionline on Valentine’s Day:
I love elections because they have something for everyone:
- Like people? Elections are an intensely human activity, requiring people to work together despite the fact that politics often divides them.
- Love process? Elections are ALL ABOUT process – laws, regulations, rules, procedures – a Type A’s dream.
- Love technology? Elections give you a chance to work and play with all kinds of technology – whether made with bits of information or bits of plastic and metal.
- Love design? There is no shortage of things and places to imagine, re-imagine and layout – ballots, brochures, polling places, etc.
- Love government? Election administration is a huge public service challenge (dwindling budgets, uncertain legal environment, etc.) – but Election Day still has to happen.
- Love America? Love democracy? This is how we do it – resolving our biggest (and smallest) questions with ballots, not bullets.
Quite simply, we need to show people – especially potential entrants into the field – that being an election official offers opportunities for fulfillment (and, hopefully, advancement) for just about any skill set. In turn, bringing those new skills into the election community will help all of us continue to grow and serve our voters.
The second strategy is to go beyond the “accidental” nature of the profession and actively seek out new recruits – particularly in communities who are under-represented in the electorate.
More and more, managing elections requires an awareness of and sensitivity to accessibility for voters with disabilities, a willingness and ability to provide election assistance in numerous languages and a keen eye for the impact of election laws and procedures on under-represented segments of the population including communities of color.
Rather than relying on a strategy of teaching these skills to the people who already populate the profession, why not reach out to (and bring in) members of those communities and give them elections know-how? In other words:
- Who better than an election official with a disability to really see physical and procedural barriers to the vote – and then remove them?
- Who better than a bi- or multi-lingual election official to understand that simple literal translations don’t always capture the true meaning of election materials or recognize cultural norms that matter to a voter?
- Who better than an election official who comes from a community that doesn’t always vote to know how to reach members of those communities and identify what it takes to give them confidence in and enthusiasm for the voting process?
The current field of election administration is jam-packed with people who do their jobs professionally with skill and enthusiasm for the task of making our democracy work. If that tradition is to continue, however, we constantly need to bring new blood into the field. We can do that by demonstrating how truly multi-faceted and fascinating election administration is – and by bringing new (and just as important, different) faces into the ranks of election administrators.
Who’s with me?
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