Is there anything more American than a road trip? The ELECTricity program actually started with a road trip in 2013. We trusted that getting in a car and driving to government offices and conferences was the best way to develop a program that was responsive to the real needs of election officials. So, as new Illinois residents, we recently set out on an adventure to meet Midwestern election officials, hear about what they are working on, and share helpful resources.
Along the way we rubbed elbows with Illinois Clerks in Effingham, led a session with over 200 election officials in Kansas City, and met State Board staff in Springfield.
Kurt, Tiana, and Whitney headed south from Chicago at sunrise to attend the Illinois Association of County Clerks and Recorders (IACCR) Summer conference and annual meeting in Effingham, Illinois. Kyle Thomas from the Illinois State Board of Elections presented on Monday morning. He briefed the group on National Change of Address procedures and how that might impact the queues in county voter registration systems.
After lunch and a heartfelt scholarship presentation led by Bruce Clark from Kankakee County, Amy Kelly and Brent Davis from the State Board answered Clerks’ questions regarding new legislation and the 2016 elections. Alice Mullinax, Richland County Clerk and President of IACCR, was a friendly host who not only invited the CTCL team to attend the meeting and introduce ourselves to Clerks, but also provided free candy bars.
Fueled by chocolate and an itch for barbeque, the CTCL team rolled into Kansas City, Missouri late Monday night. We were invited to town to lead a session on free and low-cost tech solutions for election offices at the 2015 Midwest Election Officials Conference (MEOC). MEOC was started in 1989 as a way to bring a national election conference to the Midwest, and after several years of dormancy, the Johnson County, Kansas election office resurrected MEOC this year. Officials from Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri gathered to share best practices with each other, observe presentations and roundtables with national election organizations, and demo technology in preparation for 2016.
Sticking to its mission, MEOC drew election experts from across the country. All three current Commissioners from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) were in attendance. They spoke about dynamic voting technology certification programs and various resources that they offer on their website, including examples of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for voting technology. David Becker, Director of Election Initiatives at the Pew Charitable Trusts, presented on his team’s Election Performance Index (EPI). Using 17 election administration indicators, the EPI tracks the performance of each state from one election cycle to the next.
Then, it was our turn to present. CTCL led an interactive session that asked election officials to consider how they use mobile technology, what voters’ information needs are, and why it’s important to write election information in a way that voters understand. We listed resources that any election office can use to better communicate with voters, including the Center for Civic Design Field Guides and CTCL's election website template and training. We also solicited ideas for the Civic Engagement Toolkit, a website that will feature tested tools -- along with step-by-step instructions -- that any election official can use for the 2016 election and beyond. Overall, CTCL received positive feedback on our session and over two dozen submissions to the Toolkit.
Kansas City fed us well. On our last night in town, we drove over the state line to what locals call “KSK” -- Kansas City, Kansas. There we enjoyed a fine Midwestern dinner at a famous corner gas station, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. We smelled like barbecue smoke all the way to Chicago.
Heading back home to Chicago on Friday, the team traveled through Springfield where we stopped by the Illinois State Board of Elections office. There we talked with election staff about zone meetings, which occur as often as every month throughout the state. At zone meetings, Clerks and election staff discuss election issues, provide solutions, and share lunch. CTCL is excited to attend the zone meetings and learn from Clerks about how they administer elections in Illinois. The SBE staff also talked us through the cultural differences that exist among the 102 counties and 109 election authorities that make up the Prairie State, as well as the different challenges that they face when it comes to election administration. In addition to going to the zone meetings, state election staff also recommended that we eat a regional dish while in Springfield.
Introducing the Horseshoe. It’s a slice of Texas toast topped with choice of meat, covered in french fries and cheese sauce.
It became clear to us on this 1,000-mile road trip that the Midwest is not only stacked with generous food options, but also generous election officials. We look forward to learning more about both.