California Dreamin'

In February our Government Services team traveled to California, where we trained local election officials, helped facilitate a usability test for the Civic Engagement Toolkit, and spoke on a panel at the Future of California Elections annual conference.

Over the course of our 10-day trip, we soaked up sunshine and information about elections in the Golden State.

Online Voter Engagement Training

We began our trip working with the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) to organize 2 trainings for their members. The first training -- for election officials in the northern reaches of the state -- took place at the Sacramento County Registrar’s office. The second training -- for election officials in southern California -- was hosted at the Orange County Registrar’s office in Santa Ana.

Overall, 56 California election officials attended the trainings, and we used the hashtag #CACEOsocial to connect with each other on Twitter.

Tiana Epps-Johnson teaches Twitter mechanics in Sacramento.

Tiana Epps-Johnson teaches Twitter mechanics in Sacramento.

Both classes covered the same topic: Online Voter Engagement. In each 5-hour class we coached election officials on:

  • what research tells us about how people look for election information online
  • how to use Twitter to communicate election information year-round
  • how to create shareable graphics using basic design principles

Based on the post-training feedback we’ve received, #CACEOsocial attendees most valued the the information on Twitter metrics and the introduction to free design software. They also said they planned to refer back to their participant guide -- a handbook we created that provides details on the topics we covered and resources to help in their outreach efforts.  In feedback, we also heard that folks are interested in learning how other social media platforms can be used to communicate and engage with people in their communities. 

Kurt Sampsel discusses ways to measure voters' informational needs in Santa Ana.

Kurt Sampsel discusses ways to measure voters' informational needs in Santa Ana.

Are you looking for professional development opportunities for your election office or association? Our government services team offers customized training for local election officials across the country. Contact us at so we can work with you to plan your next learning event.

Toolkit Usability Testing

A few days later, in Los Angeles, we met with project partners, the Center for Civic Design, to work on the The Civic Engagement Toolkit for Local Election Officials. The Toolkit is a website that will feature tools, along with step-by-step instructions, that have been recommended and tested by local election officials. The Toolkit will empower election officials, regardless of their resources, to use tools and programs so they might better communicate with and engage the people they serve.

Since receiving funding from the News Challenge on Elections by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 2015, we’ve been busy gathering information from the field, prioritizing concepts, and designing the Toolkit website.

Over the past 7 months, in concert with our project partners, we’ve:

  • collected 59 Toolkit submissions online and in-person at election conferences
  • convened 19 local election officials at a December workshop in Chicago to set Toolkit priorities. The group generated:
    • 40 tool categories
    • 277 tool ideas
  • convened 7 local election officials at a January workshop in Tampa to design the Toolkit website
  • tested the usability of the Toolkit website remotely and in-person with 21 people

Our aim is to have a website for the Toolkit that is useful, usable, and inviting. Usability testing helps us achieve this goal. By observing how people interact with the site and navigate content, we are able to identify what’s working and what’s not, and then make improvements.

Nancy Frishberg facilitates usability testing in Los Angeles.

Nancy Frishberg facilitates usability testing in Los Angeles.

The next round of usability testing will be in April, and we plan to publicly launch the Toolkit website in early summer. Do you want to get involved with the Toolkit? Email us at to find out how, and keep up with the latest Toolkit news on social media with #ElectionTools.

The Future of California Elections Annual Conference

Finally, we continued to enjoy Los Angeles while attending the Future of California Elections (FoCE) conference. FoCE is a collaboration between election officials, civil rights organizations, and election reform advocates to examine and address the unique challenges facing the State of California’s election system. The organization’s twin goals are expanding participation and modernizing elections in California.

Karla Zombro, Jess Jollett, Whitney May, Eren Mendez, and Kenya Parham at the 2016 Future of California Elections conference in Los Angeles.

Karla Zombro, Jess Jollett, Whitney May, Eren Mendez, and Kenya Parham at the 2016 Future of California Elections conference in Los Angeles.

We were honored that our Director of Government Services, Whitney May, was invited to speak on the panel “Moving the Electorate: Reflections and Insights on Civic Engagement”. She joined moderator Jess Jollett and fellow panelists Eren Mendez, Kenya Parham, and Karla Zombro to discuss strategies for engaging historically disenfranchised communities. 

The conference program was stacked with informative and thought-provoking panels. A frequent topic of discussion was the lessons that have been learned through the voting models of Colorado and Oregon. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins shared experiences and challenges from their states. 

There was also a lot of attention given to making voting information more accessible, engaging young people in civic life, and finding new solutions to election funding. We encourage you to join the ongoing conversation on Twitter using #FOCE2016.

Overall, our time in California was a golden opportunity to learn with people who care about democracy. We also enjoyed wearing short sleeves in February. 

For this experience, we extend our gratitude to CACEO and all the election officials who joined us in Sacramento and Santa Ana to make the trainings a success, the Center for Civic Design and election officials who participated in the second round of usability testing for the Civic Engagement Toolkit, and FoCE for their vision and leadership to bring together diverse stakeholders and tackle the most pressing issues facing California’s elections.