Realigning ElectionTools.org to Better Meet the Needs of Election Officials

When we at the Center for Technology and Civic Life launched ElectionTools.org in June 2016, we stated our goals for the resource as “advancing the important work of election officials” and “helping to improve the voter experience nationwide.”

Three years later, we’re still committed to those goals, and we’re making ElectionTools.org evolve so that it’s better positioned to fulfill them.

Ahead of the 2020 General Election, we’re realigning our collection of tools to better meet the needs of our audience. Here’s why we’re making these changes and what you can expect to see as ElectionTools.org develops.

Why we’re doing this

For any project to progress, it needs maintenance and a continued reinvestment of resources. It needs not just growth, but smart growth, and that means growth that’s grounded in data. For that reason, we conducted an impact measurement study on ElectionTools.org in the spring of 2019.

The study focused on one central objective: understanding our users’ outcomes and then identifying the extent to which they match up with CTCL’s goals.

What we discovered from the impact evaluation is that while our audience of election officials values the resources on ElectionTools.org, some of the tools have a better track record of success than others. In addition, we saw evidence to suggest that taking a more hands-on, supportive approach with potential users could help them overcome challenges and adopt the tools they’d like to use.

As we weigh findings from the impact study, we’re also following developments in the field of election administration. As the field changes, so do our audience’s priorities, and that means that tools selected in 2016 may not reflect the most pressing needs of officials in 2019 and 2020.

For all these reasons, ElectionTools.org is changing.

What’s changing

The most visible change you’ll notice on ElectionTools.org is that we’re reducing the number of tools. To bring greater focus to the collection and set up our audience for success, we have removed about half of the tools.

How did we choose which tools to remove? Each has its own story, but in general, we’re removing tools that were overly complicated, tools whose target audience isn’t election officials, and tools whose content is available elsewhere. With fewer tools, we have greater confidence that our audience will find resources that address their needs and that are easy to adopt.

The new ElectionTools.org

The new ElectionTools.org

While we’re reducing the number of tools, we’re working to boost user support for the ones that remain. Because we know our audience is full of busy people with a variety of skill levels, we will be holding free, public webinars to introduce the tools, demonstrate how they work, and offer tips to use them for the greatest impact.

Alongside CTCL staff, the webinars will feature the tool developers and election officials who want to share their experiences with others.

We hope the webinars will promote adoption of the tools. After the live webinars, video recordings will be added to the tool pages as an additional asset. We’ve already added one such webinar for our RFP How-to Guide for Election Officials.

We’re also simplifying our brand. We’re discontinuing the use of the name “Election Toolkit” and are instead presenting the web address as the name of the resource: ElectionTools.org.

Behind the scenes, we are developing criteria to guide the tool selection process in the future. This will help ensure that our future tools are easy to use, free, noncommercial, scalable, and focus on election officials as their audience. We also see value in tools that complement other CTCL programs, such as our training courses.

What’s staying the same

Since its beginning, ElectionTools.org has been a resource developed by, with, and for election officials. That won’t change.

Plus, we remain committed to providing our audience with tools they can use regardless of their budget, skill level, and ability. We want nothing to hold our users back from implementing a change in their office.

We’ll also continue to collect stories of election officials who are using the tools, sharing their experiences with others who may benefit. If you’ve used a tool, we’d love to tell your story.

As we move forward, we hope you’ll keep up with what’s happening at ElectionTools.org. Being signed up for CTCL’s ELECTricity newsletter is the best way to keep up to date.

If you have questions, comments, or ideas to contribute to our realignment work, please feel free to send us an email.

Thanks to all the election officials who have used this collection of tools and participated in the research. We’re excited to roll out changes to make this a better resource for you!

CTCL Hosting a Webinar on How to Create an Effective Election RFP

For election officials, writing a request for proposal (RFP) is an important step toward improving how elections are run. A successful RFP will help you purchase new voting equipment, internal management systems, and other materials that can reshape your office’s work and influence the voter experience.

Led by Kammi Foote, County Clerk/Recorder and Registrar of Voters for Inyo County, California and Tabitha Lehman, Election Commissioner for Sedgwick County, Kansas, this webinar gives an overview of best practices for creating an election RFP.

Kammi Foote and Tabitha Lehman

Kammi Foote and Tabitha Lehman

Plus, we introduce the new RFP How-to Guide for Election Officials.

Key topics of the webinar:

  • RFP basics: how they work, what’s needed to create one

  • Common ingredients of an election RFP

  • Distributing your RFP and reviewing bids

  • Using the new RFP How-to Guide for Election Officials

CTCL Staff Hits the Road to Collect Voting Time Data on Election Day

For many people, Election Day means heading to the polls to cast their ballots. But for four of CTCL’s staff members, this past Election Day was spent on the road collecting important data on voting times. 

Working toward our goal to create a Voting Time Estimator tool for the Election Toolkit, we visited three metro areas and collected more than 3,300 vote times from 34 polling places. Along the way, we met lots of friendly people and got a feel for what it’s like to vote in the communities we visited.

Denver, Colorado

Executive Director Tiana Epps-Johnson and Donny Bridges, Director of Civic Data, collected data in the Mile High City, Denver. After an easy flight, they used Denver’s new light rail service to get into the city.

Donny and Tiana at the Denver Elections Division office. Photo by Tiana Epps-Johnson.

Donny and Tiana at the Denver Elections Division office. Photo by Tiana Epps-Johnson.

Stationed at the Denver Elections Division office downtown, they were able to watch voters marking ballots while also seeing election workers process ballots and verify signatures. 

Denver’s ballots contained 1-2 school board races and 9-10 initiatives. According to Donny, vote times varied based on voter behavior.

“The average vote time hovered around four minutes,” Donny explains, “with some folks coming in completely prepared and getting out within a minute and others taking much longer in contemplating their choices.”

Even though their focus was on voting times, Tiana and Donny were also struck by Denver’s innovative voting system -- in particular, all the available voting options. Colorado mails ballots to all voters prior to the election, and voters can return them by mail, vote them in person at vote centers, or deposit them using convenient drop boxes.

“Denver is an amazing example of a process that is designed to be as convenient as possible for as many voters as possible,” Tiana observes. “You can even get a ballot to-go on Election Day as long as you return it to a drop box by the time polls close!”

Donny was especially charmed by a drop box that was set up in the middle of a road downtown for drivers (and cyclists!) to use. “Although, I didn’t envy the poor poll workers who had to stand out there in the sub-freezing weather!” he says. 

All told, Tiana, Donny, and a few Elections Division staff members collected over 270 voting times -- all while managing to avoid frostbite. 

St. Louis County, Missouri

Road tripping in a rental car, Director of Government Services Whitney May traveled to St. Louis County, Missouri, where she visited 20 (!) polling places. Data collection here was performed by a team of 20 high school students who were organized and trained by Board of Elections staff. 

Driving around St. Louis County, Whitney met with each student, answered their questions about the project and about using the Voting Timer App, and reminded them about data collection protocols. 

She was impressed with their dedication and thoughtfulness.

“Every high school student who collected data in St. Louis County was absolutely fantastic,” Whitney emphasizes. “They were professional, curious, and focused on their task. All of the students recognized the value of being a poll worker, whether it was for compensation, community service hours, or college application materials.”

Tyreese Jones and Clair Osterhaus -- two of the high school students Whitney worked with in St. Louis County. Photo by Whitney May.

Tyreese Jones and Clair Osterhaus -- two of the high school students Whitney worked with in St. Louis County. Photo by Whitney May.

Ballots in St. Louis County were focused on referenda, including either one or two initiatives per ballot. Whitney noted that the average voting time was about 30 seconds, while turnout was a bit over 10%. 

In between visiting polling places, Whitney participated in a Facebook Live video broadcast alongside Democratic Director of Elections Eric Fey and Charles Stewart III of MIT to talk about the Voting Time Estimator project. 

Something that Whitney observed about St. Louis County is an emphasis on carrying out election procedures in a bipartisan way.

“Polling places are staffed with members of both major political parties,” Whitney reports, “and election results are returned to the election office by a 2-member team: 1 person from each party. Both major political parties are also explicitly represented in full-time staff at the election office.”

Ultimately, St. Louis County’s army of high school data collectors gathered an incredible 2,800 vote times, playing a huge role in helping us reach our data goals. 

Providence County, Rhode Island

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Government Services Associate Kurt Sampsel visited three suburban towns in Providence County, Rhode Island to time voters. Enjoying the pretty autumn sights of New England, Kurt started in East Providence, then drove to Lincoln, and then to Scituate, visiting a total of six polling places. 

At each polling place, Kurt introduced himself to poll workers, explained his reason for the visit, and set up at a discreet spot where he could observe voters. Poll workers kindly offered him coffee, cookies, and homemade treats that helped him keep his energy up during the 13-hour day. 

In addition to friendly poll workers, Kurt enjoyed the opportunity to meet Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea at a polling place in East Providence. 

“Secretary Gorbea has done a lot to encourage civic pride and make voting easier in the state,” Kurt explains, “and she was quite supportive of my data collection work and curious about what it would reveal.”

Kurt with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. Photo by Rob Rock.

Kurt with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. Photo by Rob Rock.

The East Providence ballot was the largest one that Kurt timed, with six referenda, while the Lincoln and Scituate ballots each had just a single school bond measure. Even with these single-item ballots, Kurt saw strong engagement in both towns. 

He also witnessed the impact of new voting equipment -- especially the electronic poll books -- on the voting experience. 

“Every single poll worker I spoke to, whether young or old, loves the new e-poll books,” Kurt says, “and voters liked the surprise of not having to sort themselves by last name when approaching the check-in table, like with the paper poll books. In the entire day, I’m not sure I saw a single hiccup at any of the check-in stations.”

At the end of the day, Kurt had timed 292 voters, with average times of about 2.3 minutes in East Providence and 29 seconds in Lincoln and Scituate. 


While we were out collecting voting time data, volunteers around the country were doing the same in their own jurisdictions. In addition to the locations we visited, we received Election Day data from dedicated volunteers in the following places:

  • Inyo County, California

  • Cleveland County, North Carolina

  • Hunterdon County, New Jersey

  • Alexandria, Virginia

  • Arlington, Virginia

Together, this data will help us move forward with our goal of collecting 25,000 vote times for at least 500 unique ballots.

Thanks to all the election officials who participated in this research project to help improve the voting process. Your data collection efforts are powering a free tool that will be available to benefit all election officials in 2018. 

Would you like to host us for data collection in 2018? Or, would you like to collect data yourself? We’d love to talk with you. Email Kurt at kurt@techandciviclife.org to start the conversation.

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 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. 

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.


The Election Toolkit: The First 4 Months

The Election Toolkit launched 4 months ago, and since then, its reach and impact have expanded. With Election Day less than a month away, the Toolkit is geared up to meet the needs of election officials across the country. Let’s take a look at the first 4 months of the Toolkit and how it’s developed.

New Tools

A living, growing resource, the Toolkit continues to expand. It launched in June with 11 tools and since then, we’ve added 2 new tools to the lineup.

The Polling Place Resource Planner can help election administrators estimate voter wait times and make judgments about how best to allocate resources on Election Day. 

The Toolkit's new Voting Timer App

The Toolkit's new Voting Timer App

And the Voting Timer App allows election staff to produce reliable data on how long voters will spend with a ballot, controlling for variations in ballots and voting equipment. While election officials observe voters at a polling place, they can also contribute to a national study on voting times. 

We’ve also expanded the number of graphics in our Civic Icons and Images tool, which now contains 22 collections. 

A Growing Reach

In its first 2 weeks, the Toolkit home page received over 1,400 unique page views, and that number has more than doubled since then. In September, we celebrated a milestone: the Toolkit had received visitors from all 50 states. And at this point more than 70 people keep up with the Toolkit by subscribing. 

Traffic to the Toolkit has come from all 50 states

Traffic to the Toolkit has come from all 50 states

Along the way, we’ve heard from folks from all over. In addition to the stories that we highlight in our news articles, we’ve seen election officials and other civically minded people use the tools to reach civic engagement goals in their communities. 

For instance, the Civic Icons and Images have been used by the State of Hawaii Office of Elections, appearing on the office’s website and in its absentee voter guide. This tool has also found fans in Virginia, Oregon, California, and New York. 

Meanwhile, public servants and advocates have made use of the Voter Registration Drive Kit. To help promote voter registration, this kit has been adopted by a student affairs coordinator at Ball State University in Indiana, a re-entry office in Pennsylvania dedicated to supporting citizens who have been incarcerated, and a community health center in the Mississippi Delta region. 

And the Infographic Design tool has been especially popular, empowering election staff in Ohio, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee to create outreach materials to engage with voters. 

Toolkit Hits the Road

Of course, in order for people to use the Toolkit, they need to know about it. To help spread the word, we’ve traveled to conferences and given presentations to reach government officials from coast to coast. 

In July, we presented at the CCCA conference in Englewood, Colorado. 

In August, we traveled to VRAV in Roanoke, Virginia and ACECA in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

An attentive audience at VRAV in Roanoke, Virginia

An attentive audience at VRAV in Roanoke, Virginia

In September we met officials at the Northern District meeting of ACCCIND in Monticello, Indiana and COANJ in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In addition to in-person meetings, we participated in 2 webinars in September: one held by Next Century Cities and another presented by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

Most recently, in October, we spoke at the annual NDACo conference in Bismarck, North Dakota. 

Are we done promoting the Toolkit? Not even close. Even after the General Election, we’ll continue to hit the road to share the Toolkit with election officials and talk about how they can use it to overcome challenges and meet goals in their communities. 

What’s Next

Are you ready for Election Day? The Toolkit is! We’re reorganized the website to prioritize tools that can help you on November 8 -- especially technologies you can use at polling places.

And we have 2 new tools in the development stage: an easy-to-use election results display platform and a usability testing kit to help election officials test and improve voter-facing materials.

Do you want to keep up with the Toolkit as it grows? Sign up to bookmark your favorite tools, leave feedback, and be part of the community. And be sure to talk about the Toolkit on Twitter using #ElectionTools.

How are you using the Toolkit? We’d love to hear about your experience. Email us at hello@electiontools.org.

Election Toolkit Launches

Free and Low-cost Tech Tools Will Help Promote Civic Engagement Nationwide

Chicago, IL—This election year, election officials will have a new collection of tech tools to help them engage their communities in the electoral process and improve how elections are run throughout the U.S. The Election Toolkit, an online library of tech resources, includes tools like a Twitter guide, a free app to measure voter wait times, tools for publishing real-time election results, and a collection of civic icons.

All of the tools in the Toolkit are either free or low cost and come paired with step-by-step instructions, making them accessible to any election official, regardless of their budget or technical ability.

“Understanding how to use digital tools is key to effectively communicating things like law changes and deadlines to voters. And using data can help make sure that every voter’s experience is seamless,” says Tiana Epps-Johnson, Executive Director at the Center for Technology and Civic Life. “While technology can’t solve every problem, we see the Toolkit as a resource that any election office can use to manage and publish their really rich information in ways that communities have come to expect.”

Local election officials play a vital role in the civic life of their communities, but their work is often restrained by outdated technology and tight budgets. Recognizing a need for new tech resources in elections, the Center for Technology and Civic Life, a nonprofit based in Chicago, devised the Election Toolkit for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Elections, which funds ideas that better inform voters and increase civic participation. The Election Toolkit was named one of 22 winners of the Knight News Challenge in July 2015. 

To assemble and design the Toolkit, the Center for Technology and Civic Life – along with project partners the Center for Civic Design, the Cook County (IL) Clerk, the Hillsborough County (FL) Supervisor of Elections, and the Inyo County (CA) Clerk-Recorder-Registrar – called upon the experience and expertise of local election officials.

The Toolkit partners asked election officials from around the country about their goals and challenges and about the kinds of technologies that they wish they had. After narrowing down their ideas, the officials provided feedback to shape the look and feel of the Toolkit website, and they participated in usability testing to ensure that the Toolkit would be intuitive to its target audience. The website went live on June 16.

With a heated presidential election coming in November, the Election Toolkit is launching at a time when election administration is increasingly under the spotlight. By advancing the important work of election officials, the Toolkit will also help to improve the voter experience nationwide.

Read more about the Election Toolkit at www.electiontools.org.

Read more about the work of the Center for Technology and Civic Life at www.techandciviclife.org.

Tiana Epps-Johnson, Executive Director
Center for Technology and Civic Life
Phone: (872) 588-6843
Email: tiana@techandciviclife.org

Election Officials Gather in Chicago for Toolkit Workshop

Election officials from the across the country took a gamble when they accepted an invitation to Chicago in December.  And we are so grateful they did!

Toolkit workshop participants pose for a group shot. Photo credit:  Dan O’Neil

Toolkit workshop participants pose for a group shot. Photo credit: Dan O’Neil

The Civic Engagement Toolkit for Local Election Officials will be a collection of tested technology solutions for some of the biggest problems facing election officials. Going live in 2016, the Toolkit will help election officials serve their communities more effectively -- and more easily -- in preparation for the 2016 General Election and beyond.

On Thursday, December 17 we organized a workshop to set the priorities for the Toolkit. The workshop was facilitated by Nancy Frishberg and Whitney Quesenbery from the Center for Civic Design. It was hosted in a beautiful conference space that was generously donated by the Chicago Community Trust.

Let’s take a look at the data from the day:

  • 19 election officials serving 7.18 million registered voters

  • 277 tool ideas

  • 40 proposed tool categories

  • 37 show-and-tell items

At the workshop election officials participated in small-group brainstorming and ranking activities to define the most pressing needs they’re facing in the 2016 elections. In less than an hour the group generated 277 ideas for tools. That’s a lot of sticky notes! These ideas were combined with the over 50 online submissions that we've received since August. The tool categories ranged from “Poll workers” to “Swag” to “Graphics and visualizations”.

Participants were encouraged to connect with each other online and keep the conversation going using #ElectionTools.

In addition to brainstorming tools they’d like to use, participants shared tools and programs they’ve already used effectively in their jurisdictions. We posted show-and-tell materials on the windows that face Lake Michigan. For multiple reasons, the view was impressive. It was an inspiring display of how election offices are increasing civic participation in communities large and small. We saw apps, student art contests, a wait time calculator, voter guides, websites, and more.

Show-and-tell materials posted in the window facing Lake Michigan.

Show-and-tell materials posted in the window facing Lake Michigan.

We wrapped up the day with -- you guessed it -- a voting exercise. Individuals used a stamp to mark the tools they were most interested in learning more about. The tools featured in the Toolkit will aim to address many of the needs identified at the Chicago workshop. Over the next three months we will be prototyping the Toolkit website, testing its usability, and writing how-to materials for featured tools. Testing and preparation will take place in spring 2016, and we plan to publish the Toolkit in early summer.

You are invited to learn more about the Toolkit and how you can contribute to it: http://www.techandciviclife.org/election-toolkit/

About our project funding and partners

The Toolkit is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Elections, which sponsors breakthrough ideas to better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during, and after elections. 

Local election offices are a trusted source of nonpartisan civic information for voters, campaigns, and the media. And we saw the Knight News Challenge as an opportunity to work with local election officials in communities large and small so they can use the best tools to share fundamental civic information and run excellent elections.

The Toolkit is a collaborative effort. We are honored to work in partnership with the Center for Civic Design, the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, the Inyo County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar, and the Suburban Cook County Clerk.

For more information on the Knight Foundation's News Challenge, visit newschallenge.org.