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electionlineWeekly — August 2, 2018

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I. In Focus This Week

Exit Interview: Amber McReynolds

Amber1Amber McReynolds courtesy of Denverite

Long-time Director of Elections Amber McReynolds is leaving Denver Elections, but she’s not leaving elections.

After administering elections in Denver for 12 years, McReynolds will depart later this month to become the Executive Director of the National Vote at Home Institute.

During her tenure in Denver, the county/city’s elections department was known for innovative ideas such as eSign, Ballot TRACE and a program allowing homeless residents to serve as poll workers. The Division has won several national and international awards stemming from these innovations and others.

As she wrote about in an April Medium post, McReynolds believes in a voter-centered approach to elections.

“As a dynamic, highly complex, and decentralized ecosystem, the election administration field involves commitment by federal, state, and local election officials but also technologists, stakeholders, advocacy groups, and above all — voters,” McReynolds wrote. “Let me say that again. Voters are the key and making their experience meaningful, accessible, and secure is our ultimate responsibility. We must continue to improve our service delivery to voters, respond to their needs, and facilitate a fair and accessible process. I believe this process must be free from partisan politics and must be centered around doing what’s right for all voters, regardless of political persuasion.”

We caught up with Amber as she was preparing for her final days at Denver Elections and asked her some questions for one of our exit interviews.

Why are you choosing to leave public service now?
I have been blessed to lead an incredible and talented team at Denver Elections. We have transformed the voting process to make it more effective for voters and I think this new opportunity gives me a chance to continue to help other states re-imagine what is possible to improve the voting process for all voters. So, my new role is still serving the public, just perhaps in a more indirect way. I’ll always be a public servant.

What attracted you to taking on the role at Vote At Home?
I receive calls and emails weekly from states and jurisdictions across the country asking me how they can make their offices or state processes look like Colorado’s system. I have been speaking all over the country about Denver’s transformation and how we modernized our election system and improved the voting experience. 

I have found that there is much to do to enhance and improve the process across the country. As an experienced election official, I believe I can help others and the National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition will give me a chance to do that.   

What advice would you give someone just getting started out about working the field of elections?
I am grateful to work in this office and in this role and I have loved it each and every day. I’m passionate about election administration and I believe that finding a role that you are passionate about is the key to being successful. I always encourage new election officials to approach this profession in curiosity and think about what is possible, re-imagine what could be, and look for creative ways to serve voters.  Voting is our ultimate right and voters deserve an awesome experience!  

Also, the field of elections has so many amazing opportunities for a variety of disciplines including technology, data analytics, communication, marketing, process improvement, customer service, database administrators, graphic designers, researchers, lawyers, accountants, political science, operations, logistics, emergency management, and many more.  It’s an exciting field and expanding the diversity of disciplines within the field is important to improving the voting process overall.   

So, you do not need a specific major or background but you need to be passionate, curious, and committed to the subject. I also think it is important for professionals new the field to seek mentors and learn from others.

What’s the one thing you wish you could have accomplished while in Denver, but weren’t able to?
Oh what a list!  Well, I’m an eternal optimist and I believe that very little is impossible. 

So, first we have been working on a plan to consolidate our municipal and run-off election and utilize ranked choice voting.  I believe this is a good path forward for voters and for election administration and will save taxpayer funds in the process.

Secondly, voter registration trends in Colorado show a 45 percent increase in unaffiliated voters in recent years – now 38% Unaffiliated, 30 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republican. Of this, 50 percent of 18-24 year old voters are unaffiliated. To me, voters are always telling us something with trends and data and it is important to constantly review our laws and policies to ensure they support voters.  Many states do not require you to affiliate when you register to vote and given this trend in Colorado, I believe our state should consider this policy change. 

Third, I believe there is need for further reform with our primary system to make it more effective and operationally efficient.  

Fourth, there are statutory changes that would improve voting access in Colorado including allowing 17 year olds who will be eligible to vote by the General Election to vote in the Primary (Ohio does this currently).

Fifth, I believe that implementing pre-paid/business reply postage for mail ballots and adjusting the timelines for receiving the physical ballot (due to USPS operational changes) are needed to ensure voted ballots are received. I have other ideas about statutory changes but that is a good summary. 

Sixth, I believe there are still some enhancements to make with regards to the delivery system for military and overseas voters and voters with accessibility challenges.  Denver has made progress on these initiatives and that will continue. 

Finally, Denver is also ready to rollout a new Campaign Finance Filing system that will tremendously improve the reporting system and access to information.  The team working on this has done an outstanding job and I can’t wait to see the final product this fall.

Denver elections has done a lot of unique and innovative things (eSign, homeless poll worker program), what is it about Denver that made that possible?
We have a culture of curiosity and creativity and we focus on doing what is right for the customers we serve. We truly care about delivering exceptional service and improving the voting experience. Our team is incredible and have many amazing ideas to achieve this mission. 

If you could create the perfect voting system, what would it look like? And no fair just saying vote-by-mail!
I believe the future is ballot delivery (not actually the term vote by mail). 

Colorado was designed to be an automatic ballot delivery system complimentary to voter registration modernization reforms. I believe connecting the registration process with balloting so that it is seamless is critical to an effective voting system. 

Right now the delivery mechanism is a paper ballot delivered by USPS and in the future that may be different. I could envision a system that allows a voter to login to their voter registration record, their ballot is displayed, they can mark the ballot and click print (or perhaps save it to their phone) and then physically submit it to us in a secure drop-off location or at a vote center, already marked. 

I’m an optimist with regards to new ideas and believe that if creative election professionals, talented technologists along with security specialists, and other collaborators work together, we can solve our greatest challenges with access and security.  I also believe that voters will and should advocate for system changes they want to see. 

For those wishing to keep in touch with Amber after she leaves Denver, you can reach her at the National Vote At Home Institute. She’s also on Twitter (@AmberMcReynolds) and maintains a work-related Medium account.