I. In Focus This Week
Orange County, Calif. Election Academy aims to educate voters
Classes help voters gain deeper understanding of process
By M. Mindy Moretti
Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world and U.S. Rep. John Lewis once said that the vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.
Orange County, California Registrar of Voters Neal Kelly is combining education and voting to create powerful nonviolent weapons in the form of informed voters through the county’s Election Academy.
The Election Academy is a six-course program that began in 2010 as an effort to expand the “superficial” knowledge that many, although well intentioned, candidates, campaigns and consultants have about elections are actually run.
“But, what we learned along the way was that there was also a strong desire among voters to gain a deeper understanding of the process — hence not only the birth, but the expansion of our Academy,” Kelley said.
To-date nearly 240 Orange County residents have participated in the Academy. Kelley said the residents taking the class is a real mix of people. He estimated that the average class is made up of 25 percent candidates and/or elected officials, 20 percent city, school district, special district employees, 10 percent students (college age) and 45 percent voters and interested members of the public.
All classes are held in the evenings at the registrar of voter’s office. Kelley is only minimally involved in the teaching of the classes.
“Not only do the subject matter experts around the office take place, but we bring in outside presenters as well—political reporters, ethics specialists, security specialists, etc.,” Kelley said.
A new session begins in late March and applications for the program are now being accepted.
Kelley said the courses offered have evolved over the eight years the program has been in existence, especially this year.
“In fact, the course offerings for 2018 have been heavily re-worked, including an entire section on security,” Kelley said.
The 2018 course offerings include: Protecting Your Vote, a class on election security, Making it Count, a class on what happens election night after the polls close and It’s Official: Certified and Accurate, a class that walks students through the post-Election Day activities that lead up to the certification of the election.
The cost to the county, according to Kelley, is minimal because most of those involved with the program are salaried so there is little overtime or additional labor costs.
Although there has been some discussion about holding the classes online, Kelley said because there is so much hands-on instruction and tours involved with the classes it just seems more appropriate to hold the classes in person.
Obviously not all counties have the same resources that Orange County does, but Kelley said that shouldn’t stop them from creating their own election academy.
“Do it!” Kelley said. “Use their own or internal knowledge. The public is hungry for this info, and now, more than ever (in this climate) is the time ripe for us to push out as much ‘fact based knowledge’ as possible.”
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