CTCL Helps Edwards County, Kansas Build a New Election Website

Residents of Edwards County, Kansas have a new online home for important civic information thanks to the efforts of the Edwards County Clerk’s office and the Center for Technology and Civic Life. 

Located in central Kansas, Edwards County has a population of about 3,000 people. The county seat, Kinsley, is known as Midway U.S.A. for its position exactly halfway between New York City and San Francisco on historic U.S. Route 50.

Before working with us, the Edwards County Clerk’s office didn’t provide any election information online, meaning that locals had to either visit the office in person or go to the Kansas Secretary of State’s website to get information. But County Clerk Gina Schuette and Deputy Clerk Stephanie Brake knew that creating an informative, user-friendly website could really benefit voters.

Go team! L-R: Stephanie Brake, Krysten Brake, Kurt Sampsel, Gina Schuette, and Whitney May.

Go team! L-R: Stephanie Brake, Krysten Brake, Kurt Sampsel, Gina Schuette, and Whitney May.

Gina and Stephanie learned about our Building a New Election Website course in May, when CTCL’s Whitney May and Kurt Sampsel presented at the annual conference of the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials Association in Manhattan, Kansas. 

Before long, Whitney and Kurt were traveling to Kinsley to help the Clerk’s office get started setting up the website template and filling it with content.

The website template is designed to meet the needs of both election officials and voters. Based on research about how voters look for civic information online, the template prioritizes answers to voters’ top questions and incorporates principles of plain design and plain language. The template is also mobile friendly, making it easy to use on a smartphone or tablet. Plus, it’s easy for election staff to maintain throughout election cycles.

Working with Gina, Stephanie, and Clerk II Krysten Brake, we got the new Edwards County Elections website ready in just 2 days. 

The original County Clerk page (L) compared to the new Edwards County Elections site (R)

The original County Clerk page (L) compared to the new Edwards County Elections site (R)

Now, visitors can quickly and easily find what’s on the ballot, view election results, locate their polling place, and more. 

In addition to helping the Clerk’s staff set up the website infrastructure, we covered best practices in civic communication, introduced basic web analytics, and helped the staff create a new Facebook Page for the Clerk’s office

Edwards County is the latest jurisdiction to join our growing list of election authorities that are using our website template. Moving forward, we’re excited to work with more officials in Kansas and beyond to help them create straightforward, effective election websites to better serve their communities.

Do you need to build a new election website, or would you like to make improvements to your current one? We’d love to help. Get in touch at courses@techandciviclife.org to tell us about your needs.

Election Officials: Get Involved with National Voter Registration Day

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 is National Voter Registration Day. Over 2,000 groups will be organizing to register voters nationwide, and to be successful, they need the support of state and local election officials.

Held every September, National Voter Registration Day calls attention to the importance of registering to vote and helps people get registered. Since 2012, over 1.4 million people have registered or updated their registrations thanks to the efforts of thousands of #NationalVoterRegistrationDay volunteers and partners. 

NVRD logo.png

The work of community groups is at the heart of the holiday, but election officials have an important role to play, too. 

National Voter Registration Day’s organizers emphasize 3 things that election offices can do -- some big, some small -- to help make this year’s registration events successful:

  1. Sign up to be a partner. Being a partner means giving support and leadership to the groups that are participating in registration events. You can sign up to be a partner at the NVRD website.
  2. Encourage your community members to get involved. Chances are good that you know many people and groups with an enthusiasm for civic engagement. Encourage them to get involved, and spread the word through your local media. The NVRD website has a press release template to help you get started.
  3. Promote National Voter Registration Day on social media. Tell your audience about the importance of voter registration and let them know about registration events on Twitter, Facebook, and all of your social media channels. Use the hashtag #NationalVoterRegistrationDay, and for sample posts, graphics, and other helpful resources, check out the NVRD partner toolkit.

When election officials get involved with National Voter Registration Day, everyone benefits.

As an official, trusted source of civic information in your community, you can empower participants and support civic engagement. At the same time, by doing your part to ensure registrations are completed correctly and submitted on time, you’ll be helping your fellow election officials by working to make processing registrations easier.

For more information, visit the National Voter Registration Day website. Be sure to follow the holiday on social media, too!

CTCL’s Summer School Brings Together Election Officials from Coast to Coast

This past July and August, CTCL offered for the first time our professional development courses for election officials in a convenient online classroom. To put the courses in the reach of everyone, we made them just $30.00. 

Even though it was our first time delivering curricula online, our Summer School program was a big success, bringing together over 100 participants from California to Rhode Island and everywhere in between.

Title slide from our Accessible Communication course

Title slide from our Accessible Communication course

CTCL has been offering professional development courses since our founding in 2015, but before Summer School, they were only provided in person at election offices. While the personal touch can be great, these in-person courses bring travel and lodging expenses, and they require participants to take hours away from their normal work.

We’ve known that quick, affordable, online courses could help us bring our training to more people. 

In late spring of this year, with the guidance and insight of our Advisory Committee, we prepared condensed, 90-minute versions of our most popular courses, selected a price, and started to promote them. We also created engaging, shareable videos and graphics to help spread the word through social media. 

Screenshot from one of the Summer School promotional videos

Screenshot from one of the Summer School promotional videos

We offered the 4 courses on successive Wednesdays in July and August at 1:00 p.m. Central, hoping to involve participants from all time zones. For our video conferencing platform, we used Zoom, a straightforward program that allowed us to share slides, send polls, chat with participants, and produce video recordings for later reference. 

Not knowing how much engagement we’d get, we initially decided that if 5-10 people would sign up for each of our 4 courses, we’d declare Summer School a success. But ultimately, we ended up with 10 times that number: our most popular course had 74 participants, and even our least-attended course brought in 47 people. 

We were pretty excited.

Who were the participants? Our 102 students came from 34 county offices, 8 municipal offices, and 3 state offices that administer elections for, in total, over 17 million American voters. 

Big election authorities like Dallas County, Texas (with 1.29 million registered voters) attended Summer School, as did small jurisdictions like the city of Houghton, Michigan (home to 3,056 registered voters).

Our Summer School participants joined us from across the country

Our Summer School participants joined us from across the country

Responses to the courses have been positive, with many participants sharing plans to immediately use what they learned.

“I loved the courses,” stated one participant, adding, “I am already applying tools I learned from Summer School.”

“I have never experienced such an interactive webinar,” another participant shared, explaining, “My coworker and I were so inspired, we have made a weekly game plan to address our Website to make it more assessable.”

With the positive experience of Summer School behind us, we’re already thinking about plans for future online courses. We hope to offer these same 4 courses again in the winter or spring of 2018, and in addition, we’re in the process of developing new curricula based on feedback that we’ve received. 

Stay tuned for details as we prepare to expand our online course offerings. To share your ideas or requests for future courses, email us at courses@techandciviclife.org.

The Election Toolkit at 1 Year

Last month, the Election Toolkit turned 1 year old. To mark the occasion, we’re looking back at the Toolkit’s origins as well as its growth and impact during this first year. 

We’ll also hear from members of the team who created the Toolkit about why it continues to be an exceptional resource for the election officials and other civically minded folks who use it. 

At this point, electiontools.org has received over 10,000 unique visits, and they’ve come from all 50 states. Election officials from across the nation have used the tools and have shared their stories. 

But the Toolkit started off as just an idea. 

Noah Praetz, Director of Elections for Suburban Cook County, Illinois, says that he came on board as a project partner in 2015 because he felt the Toolkit could address a profound need.

“The overwhelming majority of election administrators run elections with at most a handful of dedicated staff,” Noah explains. “Unlike the big jurisdictions, the administrators must do everything themselves -- they must be experts at everything. It’s been great to see the Toolkit spring up to provide an easy platform from which officials can harness the tools of 21st century.”

Noah was one of 19 election officials who helped kick off the Toolkit project at a meeting in Chicago in December 2015. The purpose of the meeting was simple: to suggest ideas for tools in a spirit of supportive cooperation. 

The Toolkit kickoff meeting, with Noah Praetz and Jennifer Morrell (Arapahoe County, CO) in the foreground. Photo by Julie Anderson.

The Toolkit kickoff meeting, with Noah Praetz and Jennifer Morrell (Arapahoe County, CO) in the foreground. Photo by Julie Anderson.

Whitney May, Director of Government Services at the Center for Technology and Civic Life, was at the meeting, too. Whitney created the original proposal to make the Toolkit, submitting a pitch to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Elections in early 2015.

“One of my favorite parts of the Toolkit story is how it was created,” says Whitney. “The Toolkit is a resource built by, for, and with local election officials. Plus, in addition to election officials, the Toolkit also benefitted from the expertise of developers, designers, and accessibility experts. Together, we created a beautiful web experience for everyone who visits the site.”

This ethos of collaboration has always been fundamental to the Toolkit, which ultimately launched in June 2016 with 11 tools, complete with step-by-step instructions. In the year since then, we’ve increased the number from 11 to 16.

Including tools geared to communication, testing, and resource management, the 5 new additions have gone a long way to expand the Toolkit’s range of offerings:

  1. Polling Place Resource Planner
  2. Voting Timer App 
  3. Who Won What?
  4. Usability Testing Kit
  5. Facebook Live for Election Officials

All are free to use. 

And while we’ve added new tools, we’ve also been mindful to keep the original tools up to date by revising instructions and contributing new materials and resources. 

It’s these extra elements, after all, that bring added value to the technologies featured in the kit. 

They’re one of the things that project partner Whitney Quesenbery, Co-director of the Center for Civic Design, says she emphasizes when she introduces the Toolkit to new audiences.

“First, I always say that this isn’t just a list of links, but tools that have been used — and often developed — in election offices, so they have passed the most important hurdle. The second important thing,” Whitney continues, “is that it doesn’t matter what skills you bring to using one of the tools. ElectionTools.org breaks down the process of understanding what each tool can do and how to set it up and keep using it.”

Traffic to electiontools.org has come from all 50 states

Traffic to electiontools.org has come from all 50 states

In the year following the kit’s launch, Whitney May and Kurt Sampsel of CTCL have brought this message to audiences of election officials, political scientists, and civic tech professionals, presenting the Toolkit at conferences from Ocean City, Maryland to San Francisco, California.

Now in its second year, the collection of Election Tools continues to expand and find new users. Several new tools are in the process of research and development, including a template for making pocket-sized voter guides, a how-to guide for drafting a request for proposal (RFP), and an estimator to help predict how long it will take to vote a ballot.

You can play a role in making the Toolkit even more successful in Year 2! Here’s how: 

Requesting Data on Voting Times

Have you ever timed how long it takes to vote a ballot? If so, we’d love for you to share your data for one of our projects.

CTCL is working to build a tool that will estimate how long it will take voters to mark a ballot based on its contents. Knowing how long it takes to vote is critical for helping to avoid bottlenecks at the polls, and it’s our goal to develop a simple, reliable tool for election officials to estimate voting times.

To do that, we’re collecting data on how voting times are linked to ballots. 

Here’s the information we’re looking for:

  • The voting times you’ve recorded
  • A copy of the ballot
  • Information about the voting method/equipment
  • A brief explanation of your timing process

To create a statistically significant sample, we hope to collect 50 or more vote times from 500 or more polling places. But even if you have only a small amount of data, we’d like to hear from you. Please get in touch by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org.

CTCL Launches New Summer School for Election Officials

This summer, we’re offering our 90-minute professional development courses for the first time in a convenient online classroom. It’s an easy, affordable way for you to get together with election officials from around the country while learning new skills to better serve your community. 

We’re calling it Summer School.

To help put the courses within everyone’s reach, we’ve set a price that’s sure to fit within your budget: just thirty bucks per course. And to kick off Summer School, we’re also offering an orientation that’s free for anyone to attend. 

The courses will be held on Wednesdays in July and August at 1:00 p.m. CST.

  • July 12: Summer School Orientation
  • July 19: Social Media for Voter Engagement
  • July 26: Improving Your Election Website
  • August 2: Accessible Communication for Election Offices
  • August 9: Collecting, Analyzing, and Visualizing Election Data

For more details and to sign up, check out our Summer School page. 

Want to read more about our curricula? See our Professional Development page for more information.

CTCL Presents the Election Toolkit at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference

At CTCL, we recognize that, even though the intended audience for our Election Toolkit is election administrators, it’s a useful resource for many different groups interested in civic engagement, elections, and local government. 

One of our key supporters, the Democracy Fund, recognizes that, too. That’s why they recently invited us to give a presentation at the Midwest Political Science Association conference focused specifically on how the Election Toolkit can be used for political science research. 

MPSA is a massive conference. Over 5,000 political science scholars come to this conference, and they come from the Midwest, of course, but also from across the country and around the world. The Democracy Fund invited us meet this audience as part of a new Tech Classroom presentation series. 

Tech Classroom session led by fellow presenter Normand Peladeau

Tech Classroom session led by fellow presenter Normand Peladeau

We put together a presentation that would introduce the Toolkit to this new audience before zeroing in on how the tools can be used for research. With knowledge of the Toolkit and with academic research experience of his own, Government Services Associate Kurt Sampsel represented CTCL at the conference. 

Knowing that scholars are motivated by research questions, we paired up a sampling of political science research questions with tools from the Toolkit that a researcher could use to find answers to their questions.

First, we showed how several tools can be used to collect data valuable to political scientists.

For instance, you could use the Voting Timer App to deal with a research question like “How long does it take to vote?” If you’re curious about how long people wait to vote, you could time voters with the Voter Wait Time Measurement Tool. To find out how voters use election department websites, you can work with the Basic Web Analytics tool. Finally, you can use the Polling Place Resource Planner to tackle a question like “What resources are needed to avoid long waits at the polls?”

Slide pairing the Voting Timer App with a research question

Slide pairing the Voting Timer App with a research question

Second, we demonstrated how political scientists can use the tools as the basis for experiments. To measure the potential impact of a tech intervention, a researcher could compare outcomes from election offices that are using a tool (an experimental group) against outcomes where the tool isn’t being used (a control group). 

For example, to find out if better voting information could cut the number of provisional ballots, you could compare election authorities using the Election Website Template with those that aren’t. To see if civic outreach campaigns can affect voter turnout, you could do something similar with the Text Messaging Tool. To investigate if community groups can increase the ranks of registered voters, you can study the areas where the Voter Registration Drive Kit is used. 

All told, the MPSA conference was a great opportunity to introduce the Toolkit to a new audience and to look at the project from a fresh perspective. We also enjoyed meeting political scientists and fellow civic tech professionals. 

Want to explore the MPSA conference? Check out the #MPSA17 hashtag on Twitter

We’re happy to speak with anyone who’s interested in using the Toolkit for research projects. If that’s you, email us at hello@techandciviclife.org to start the conversation. 

Introducing the CTCL Advisory Committee

The Center for Technology and Civic Life’s Government Services team organizes a network of election officials who believe that technology can improve our democracy. This looks like training people who work in local government to use technology to promote civic engagement and make voting easier.

Since launching our organization in 2015, our team has trained over 1,000 election officials on topics that have ranged from online voter engagement to data visualization to our most recent collaborative project, the Election Toolkit. In 2017 we aim to reach 1,000 more election officials with a new menu of courses that meet the modern needs of the profession.

Reaching our goals requires us to think critically about the services we provide and our outreach to election officials. With this in mind, we formed an advisory committee.

In early 2017 we recruited an advisory committee of election professionals to help us shape the content of our Government Services professional development courses and expand the reach of CTCL programs.

And on March 27, we brought our advisors together for the first time at the Chicago Community Trust.

The morning started with everyone participating in a “speed dating” icebreaker exercise so we could figure out what a room of election geeks are passionate about besides electronic poll books. Then we discussed CTCL’s ambitious mission, staff, and supporters. In addition to learning more about each other, we used this in-person meeting to put our advisors to work and gather some feedback from them.

After lunch we reviewed our nonprofit approach to professional development and sales. Our advisors were then given questions about our approach that guided both individual reflection and small group discussions.

Advisors review new training outlines

Advisors review new training outlines

We began the group discussion with advisors reporting their initial gut responses to our new curricula and service delivery. They also told us what they’d like to see added to our current list of courses.

Then advisors shared ideas about our sales process -- thinking about their own experiences of how they’ve heard about and purchased professional development classes. Overall, we wrapped up the meeting with a collection of helpful next steps to consider and with everyone wanting to dig even deeper into the conversation.

Thanks to their decades of experience and thoughtful feedback, we’re already implementing their expert advice to help us reach our goals. And we can’t wait to continue engaging our advisors over the next 18 months so we might deliver the best training courses to the most election officials! We hope you’re excited as we are.

What about you? Do you have ideas about how to enhance our professional development programs for election officials? Take a look and let us know what you think by emailing us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

CTCL Speaks about Election Data at 2017 EVN Conference

As technology changes how we navigate the world around us, it’s no surprise that it impacts how we experience elections. Whether it’s lever machines, touch screens, mail ballots or other mechanics, it’s important that we have confidence in our election technology and the voting process.

CTCL’s Executive Director, Tiana Epps-Johnson, and Director of Government Services, Whitney May, attended the 2017 Election Verification Network (EVN) annual conference in Washington, D.C. This year’s conference  theme was “Refocus. Renew. Re-Inspire.” While EVN has organized 11 conferences since 2004, this was CTCL’s first time joining the group.

The Election Verification Network brings together election officials, technologists, attorneys, researchers, advocates, and others who are passionate about elections. Together, they “collaborate across disciplines and opinions toward two inseparable goals: voting is accessible, private, reliable and secure; and elections are transparent, accurate and verifiable.”

We put together a panel on how election officials can use data to boost transparency. CTCL was joined by Jennifer Morrell, Deputy of Elections and Recording in Arapahoe County, Colorado, and Kenneth Bennett, IT Manager with Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder-Clerk.

Over the course of our panel, Jennifer discussed her experience publishing wait time data so Arapahoe voters could find the most convenient location to vote. Ken highlighted L.A. County’s use of analytics to make decisions about poll worker recruitment and paper ballot purchases. He also spoke about how simply publishing election data doesn’t automatically equate to transparency and improved processes. Ken advised the audience that it’s critical for the public and election staff to not only have access to data but also understand its context and nuance.

Then Whitney introduced the Election Toolkit and 3 of its data tools that election officials can use to capture data in order to make better decisions about resources and communications. And we wrapped up our panel with a breakout discussion, facilitated by Tiana, about how election offices and advocates can work together to publish data in ways that increase transparency and confidence in elections.

In addition to leading our EVN session we also enjoyed navigating an interactive exhibit set up by Michelle Bishop from the National Disability Rights Network and Gretchen Knauff from the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. They created a mock polling place with barriers and asked visitors to identify ways that the polling place could be improved so that it was usable by everyone.

Overall the EVN conference was a great opportunity for us to meet members, network with election geeks, and share the work that CTCL does with a new audience. To learn more about EVN and the 2017 conference, visit their website at electionverification.org and join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #EVN17.


How the Center for Technology and Civic Life Will Engage Millions More Americans in the Democratic Process

Reposted from the Knight Foundation blog

Tiana Epps-Johnson is executive director of the Center for Technology and Civic Life. Today, Knight Foundation is announcing $508,000 in new support for the center to train municipal officials to use digital tools for community outreach and election planning. 

Navigating the voting process can be cumbersome and opaque. Problems such as long lines at polling places, confusing ballot instructions and inadequate public information about the voting process have contributed to devastating declines in civic participation.

We founded the Center for Technology and Civic Life two years ago because we saw an opportunity to make voting easier for millions of Americans.

As we evaluated how we might make the greatest impact, we focused on two core initiatives:

  • Building a professional development network for election officials who want to learn about new ways to engage the public and keep up with changing technology.

  • Informing people nationwide about their local government and their choices in upcoming elections by collecting and standardizing key information from the thousands of different places it lives, and publishing it in a format that allows civic tech organizations and companies to build powerful tools.

As we reflect on our first two years we are proud of the progress we’ve made.

We’ve trained hundreds of elections officials from small communities and large on how to meet the informational and accessibility needs of their diverse audiences, use social media to reach members of their community where they are, and use data to make resource decisions so that people have a seamless experience at the polling place.

To help scale the reach of our training, last summer we launched the Election Toolkit, a library of free and low-cost tools for election officials, funded through the Knight News Challenge on Elections. Presented complete with step-by-step instructions, the tools are being used by officials across the country to promote civic engagement and make voting easier.

And in the lead up to Election Day 2016, we ran the broadest nonprofit voting information program in the country. Through partnerships with civic engagement organizations, elected officials and technology companies such as Facebook and Google, we provided answers to voters’ most pressing civic question—What’s on my ballot?—through our Ballot Information Project. All told the public accessed our data more than 150 million times.

As we plan for the future, we are doubling down on our work to modernize the voting process with key support from Knight Foundation. We will provide hundreds more election officials with the training and tools they need to make voting easier for members of their communities. And working in partnership with other civic engagement organizations and technology companies we will reach millions more people with the answers to their most pressing civic questions so they are better able to engage in the democratic process.

Email Tiana-Epps Johnson via tiana@techandciviclife.org and follow her on Twitter @tianaej. Follow the Center for Technology and Civic Life on Twitter @HelloCTCL.