Johnson County, Missouri Prepares for Election Day Emergencies

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in June 2019. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org — we'd love to share your story!


Nowadays election offices are increasingly safeguarding our elections, usually focusing on cybersecurity. You know what spearphishing looks like, you use two-factor authentication, you have DDoS protection, you’ve done penetration testing. But what happens when a man collapses and poll workers need to perform CPR? Or when a fire starts and the polling place needs to be evacuated? Or when severe weather knocks out the polling place’s power?

Even garden-variety emergencies can derail an election if you’re not prepared to respond. That’s why the elections office in Johnson County, Missouri partnered with emergency management officials to create an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) for Polling Places. The plan ranges from likely situations (severe weather) to incredibly unlikely situations (bomb threats). Poll workers are trained on the EOP before every election — though thankfully they’ve never had to use it.

 
One of Johnson County’s Emergency Management vehicles.

One of Johnson County’s Emergency Management vehicles.

 

Preparing for the Worst

Johnson County, Missouri, not to be confused with the 11 other Johnson Counties in the U.S., has 32,000 registered voters, in between Missouri’s smallest county at 1,500 and its largest at 758,000. Election administration can vary drastically by jurisdiction size, but emergency preparedness is a notable exception. Emergencies can happen anywhere and the steps to mitigate an emergency are fairly consistent.

Before 2017, Johnson County didn’t have an election-specific EOP. Diane Thompson, the Johnson County Clerk, partnered with the county’s Emergency Management Agency to prepare election workers to respond to commonplace scenarios, worst-case scenarios, and everything in between. Diane worked with the director, Troy Armstrong, to decide which scenarios to include in the EOP. Then his team created the EOP using in-house knowledge and best practices from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

 
Diane Thompson, Johnson County Clerk, and Troy Armstrong, Director of Johnson County’s Emergency Management Agency.

Diane Thompson, Johnson County Clerk, and Troy Armstrong, Director of Johnson County’s Emergency Management Agency.

 

The EOP covers five general scenarios. For medical emergencies, it explains what a 911 responder will ask, whether the person should be moved, and when to administer CPR or an automated external defibrillator (AED). The plan details how to receive weather notifications and seek shelter from extreme weather. In case of fire, the plan explains whether to evacuate or attempt to extinguish the fire. It breaks down the hierarchy of responses to active threats, along with tips on interacting with the threat, any disarmed weapons, and law enforcement. For bomb threats, checklists help identify suspicious packages, communicate with bomb threat callers, and concentrate on remembering important details.

These hypotheticals, especially the last two, can be intimidating. Thankfully, as Troy reminds us, they are extremely unlikely. “In general, we’re not going to see a catastrophic incident occurring at our polling locations; most generally it will be a minor medical emergency or something as simple as a pig showing up!” That actually happened in 2016 — a 600-pound pig wandered around a New Hampshire polling place, and Troy includes this example in his training materials. “Putting a humor spin into learning and planning always makes things such as emergency preparedness a bit more bearable.”

 
A pig at a polling place, adding some humor to a presentation on emergency management.

A pig at a polling place, adding some humor to a presentation on emergency management.

 

Beyond general emergency practices, the EOP also includes elections-specific information. It lists contact information for the Voter Registration Office and location information for every precinct. The last page of the EOP, customized for each polling place, designates a weather sheltering location and a reunification point. Equipment is ranked by importance — “Critical Priority,” such as the media stick with voting information, “Secondary Priority,” such as voting machines, and “General Priority,” such as unvoted ballots. In the EOP, each of these is assigned to an election worker to gather while evacuating (but only if safe to do so).

“Don’t wait until an event is happening to think about how you will react,” Diane suggests. “Develop a plan, review it regularly, update it when needed and hope you never have to use it. The safety and security of our polling places, our judges, and our voters is a vital part of our jobs.”

Partnering with Emergency Management Experts

At least 45 states have statutes addressing election emergencies, though they usually concern relocating polling places, extending voting hours, or rescheduling the election. The actual logistics (e.g., when and how to evacuate) are handled by the election administrator. Some states provide guidance like EOP templates, but many don’t. “At an annual county clerk conference we attended, I asked the group as a whole if anyone had an emergency operations plan that we could take a look at,” Diane says. “No one raised their hand.”

So Diane started looking for other resources. “JoCo Emergency Management seemed like the logical agency to reach out to,” she explains, and they “were very receptive to the idea of helping us.”

Election officials tend to wear many hats and be experts in many areas. It may come as a relief that you don’t need to develop expertise in emergency management too — a good collaboration will combine your elections expertise with their emergency expertise. “When we started this process,” Troy says, “I knew nothing about polling locations, or election specific information; but I did know emergency operations planning.”

 
A “Stop the Bleed” class taught by Johnson County Emergency Management Agency.

A “Stop the Bleed” class taught by Johnson County Emergency Management Agency.

 

Moving forward, Diane and Troy are considering expanding the partnership, maybe having Troy teach “Stop the Bleed” and “Help Until Help Arrives” classes for election workers. And the new EOP has gotten attention across the state — Troy has even helped other jurisdictions start the process of creating similar EOPs.

Creating a Plan for Your Office

If your office doesn’t have a plan, don’t start from scratch! Your state may provide guidance already (like California and Colorado). Fellow election officials may have EOPs, and state association conferences are a good place to ask around. Johnson County had great success partnering directly with the local emergency management agency, and you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to yours. Emergency preparedness is a well-developed field, so don’t reinvent the wheel.

“Once the plan is in place,” Troy says, “PRACTICE IT! You could have the greatest plan on paper, but once it’s exercised, you’ll find ‘hiccups’ along the way. Have the plan, exercise it, re-evaluate and adapt it; then test it again! Also, review the plan on an annual basis; locations change, personnel change, procedures change; keep it current!”

Additional Resources

If you have questions for Diane and Troy, you can reach them at DThompson@jococourthouse.com and tarmstrong@jocoema.com. And if you have difficulty finding your local emergency management agency, the state-level agencies usually provide local contact information.

The Election Assistance Commission has a round-up of election contingency plans, as well as 6 Tips for Contingency and Disaster Planning and a longer, in-depth chapter on Contingency Planning and Change Management.

Part of your EOP will be election-specific, and even customized for each polling place, but most emergency best practices are universal. Ready.gov provides comprehensive instructions for creating an emergency response plan. It includes a worksheet, templates, and a round-up of best practices for each type of emergency scenario.


How has your office prepared for emergencies? Have you ever needed to put your plan into action? Tell us about your experience by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org.

Cumberland County, New Jersey Awards "Turnout Trophy"

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in May 2019. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org — we'd love to share your story!


Running an election is challenging enough — you coordinate the country’s largest single-day workforce, you manage an intensive chain-of-custody, you prepare multiple overlapping ballot styles, you convert historic churches into temporarily accessible polling places, you audit and canvass the votes — the list goes on.

But on top of running an election, you also need to convince people to show up.

Voter turnout is relatively decent during presidential elections, but midterms are another story. According to the Election Performance Index, in 2014 Maine had the highest turnout at 59% and Texas had the lowest at 28%. These numbers are decidedly low, and there’s no easy way to raise them.

That’s why Cumberland County, New Jersey took a creative approach: a county-wide turnout competition where the winning municipality earns bragging rights and a beautiful glass-blown trophy.

 
Cumberland County Clerk, Celeste Riley, beside the Turnout Trophy in its display case. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

Cumberland County Clerk, Celeste Riley, beside the Turnout Trophy in its display case. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

 

Addressing Low Voter Turnout

New Jersey, at 33% statewide turnout in 2014, is on the lower end of voter participation, and Cumberland County was no exception. Although Cumberland County has nearly 100,000 registered voters, the 2014 elections saw a dismal 34% turnout.

Cumberland County was determined to raise that number for the 2018 midterm elections, so they held a series of brainstorming sessions on how to motivate voters. “We knew that voter registration was only half of the equation,” explains Celeste Riley, Cumberland County Clerk. “Having a lot of registered voters means very little if just a small percentage of them actually cast votes. We also knew there was no ‘silver bullet’, no single solution. So, we were looking for a creative idea, something different that would spark voter momentum.”

Poster promoting the Turnout Trophy Award Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

Poster promoting the Turnout Trophy Award Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

At first they considered a competition between the county’s high schools, but that would limit the impact to eligible 18-year-old high-schoolers, a relatively small population. “That’s when it occurred to us that we should make it a turnout competition between our 14 municipalities — town versus town for the yearly bragging rights of the community with the highest percentage voter turnout.”

The competition was based on turnout percentage so that all towns, regardless of population, could compete. Turnout was calculated using votes cast for the “top of the ticket” race (in this case, the U.S. Senate seat). The Clerk’s office promoted the competition on Facebook and Twitter and received media attention from local newspapers and on the radio. On Election Day, the website updated the scorecard in real time, eventually showing Shiloh to be the winner with a much-improved 62.6% turnout.

 
Mayor of Shiloh Borough, the winning town, accepting the Trophy. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

Mayor of Shiloh Borough, the winning town, accepting the Trophy. Photo courtesy of Cumberland County.

 

At an Awards Ceremony, the mayor of Shiloh accepted the Turnout Trophy, a custom-made glass trophy depicting three hands raised in participation. Celeste says the Trophy is intended to “be passed each year from winner to winner like the Stanley Cup,” and in the meantime, it will be displayed in the town hall of the winning town. For the first year, however, Shiloh wanted to display it where more people could see it, so it currently resides at Cumberland Regional High School — at least until another town overtakes Shiloh’s turnout.

Measuring Success

Since 2018 was the “pilot” year, the county measured success against 2014 turnout, another midterm election year with a U.S. Senate race at the top of the ballot. The results were very positive. Overall Cumberland turnout increased from 34% to 42%, and each of the 14 municipalities improved their respective turnouts. Maurice River Township, which came in 5th place, had the most improved voter turnout with an incredible 19.7% increase over the 2014 election.

 
Infographic showing each town’s final turnout in 2018. Graphic courtesy of Cumberland County.

Infographic showing each town’s final turnout in 2018. Graphic courtesy of Cumberland County.

 

As always, determining the cause of increased turnout is tricky. It’s impossible to say exactly how many previous nonvoters were motivated by the Turnout Trophy. “We know there were other factors,” Celeste says, including new early voting options and a “hot” national political climate, “but we feel it was definitely a catalyst.” Even though elections offices typically can’t conduct randomized control trials, they can still use previous turnout as a benchmark and get a temperature check of what’s working.

Forming Local Partnerships

Like many elections administrators, the Cumberland County Clerk’s responsibilities extend far beyond elections — the office also deals with passport services, wedding ceremonies, real estate transactions, notary certifications, veterans licenses, maps and aerial photos, and more. Balancing these responsibilities makes it difficult to experiment with elections innovations. “We knew we couldn’t stretch our staff too much by adding the Turnout Trophy and all of its logistics,” Celeste explains. So she turned to her community to form partnerships.

Two partnerships were key to the Turnout Trophy’s success. The first, a local creative communication firm, helped Celeste and her team “develop the idea, the branding, the messaging, and the logistics.” The comms firm was a paid partnership, but the budget was modest, and it saved staff time and resources that would otherwise be diverted from important county functions.

 
Video of WheatonArts creating the glassblown Trophy.

Video of WheatonArts creating the glassblown Trophy.

 

The second partnership was with WheatonArts, a local glass design community. “From the very beginning we talked about a single, substantial trophy” to be passed from winner to winner, Celeste explains. “So, we wanted more than a brass cup on a slab of wood.” Fortunately the county had local glassblowing artists who could create a more unique, memorable trophy worthy of annual competition. Once WheatonArts was shown the Turnout Trophy logo with raised hands, “they were inspired and went right to work,” Celeste says, and “the results were spectacular.”

Although most of the public outreach was conducted at the county level, the Clerk’s office contacted the mayor of each municipality and they individually encouraged voters in their towns. Moving forward, Celeste hopes to excite the mayors and see each town step up their voter turnout game. While the partnerships with the comms firm and WheatonArts were crucial for piloting the Turnout Trophy, the partnerships with the municipalities themselves will likely strengthen over time as mayors rally voters to win or defend their victory.

Building a Tradition

The brilliance of the Turnout Trophy, of course, is its potential to become a beloved Cumberland County tradition. Unlike get-out-the-vote efforts that boost turnout for a single election, the Turnout Trophy can gather momentum each year. The “pilot” year established the processes and logistics, and now the county can focus their efforts on hyping the Trophy for future elections. “We have a winning town to hold up to the others as a challenge,” Celeste explains, and she will spend the summer displaying the trophy at events like Fourth of July celebrations, county fairs, and festivals.

 
The Turnout Trophy Award Ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Cumberland County.

The Turnout Trophy Award Ceremony. Photo Courtesy of Cumberland County.

 

There’s no shortage of research, writing, and speculation around turnout, but one contending theory is that community culture drives voter turnout, a common theme among jurisdictions with abnormally high turnout. So an investment in your community’s culture, especially one that builds around tradition and competition, might be key for shifting toward a high-turnout culture. After all, Celeste says, with the Turnout Trophy competition, “the pride of their communities is on the line.”

Additional Resources

If you have questions about Cumberland County’s Turnout Trophy, you can reach out to Celeste at ccclerknj@co.cumberland.nj.us.

Connecticut has a similar program conducted by the Secretary of State’s office, awarding a “Democracy Cup” for highest turnout by category — mid-size, large town, and city. Brown County, Wisconsin partners with Project Vote to award a trophy for highest turnout in two size categories. There are also turnout competitions among college campuses, including the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge and the Big Ten Voting Challenge.

Another popular way to use competition to encourage turnout is through “I Voted” sticker design competitions. Read our Spotlight on Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, or check out the current sticker competitions in Ohio and Arlington, VA.

Beyond competitions, there are plenty of ideas around turnout. Weber County, Utah and Indian River, Florida each won Clearie Awards for their creative voter outreach, and we spotlighted the website Rhode Island uses to promote voter participation. You can also reference the Election Assistance Commission’s 7 Tips To Strengthen Voter Education Programs, and the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s series of 15 articles on voter turnout written by various experts.

Finally, we offer a training for election officials on Messages to Motivate Voters, which can be offered in a 90-minute or 5-hour course, and walks you through voter profiles and how to craft messaging to encourage participation.


How have you improved voter turnout in your jurisdiction? Tell us about your experience by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org.

The EAC's "Clearie" Winners Ensure Accessible Elections

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in April 2019. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org we'd love to share your story!


In February, the Election Assistance Commission announced the recipients of the 2018 Clearies. Short for Clearinghouse Awards, the Clearies recognize best practices in election administration and celebrate outstanding work. This year the 3 award categories were accessibility, election innovation, and managing election workers.

There are 10 winners (5 counties, 2 cities, and 3 state offices). They are all worth checking out, but this Spotlight will focus on the accessibility category winners:

 
Contra Costa County Elections with the EAC Clearie Award. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

Contra Costa County Elections with the EAC Clearie Award. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

 

Some accessibility best practices, like using plain language and design, are universally helpful. Others are specific and targeted, like translating material into American Sign Language, because otherwise people get left behind. In 2012, a whopping 30% of voters with disabilities had difficulty voting (compared to 8% of voters without disabilities). Worse, people with disabilities are more likely to stay home. If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as people without disabilities, even controlling for demographic variables, there would have been 2.2 million more voters in 2016. And many explicitly cite their disability as the reason.

Thankfully, election administrators are both practical and creative, as the Clearies demonstrate. You partner with your community, you ask questions, you investigate. You brainstorm and you experiment. You’re always asking, “How can I make my elections better?”, and then you do.

Martin County, Florida Creates an Accessible Video Campaign

The Martin County Elections Center serves 114,356 active registered voters, and nearly 70% of them voted in the recent 2018 general election. Martin County received the Clearie Award for “Count Me in Too!”, an accessible video campaign that educates potential voters on how to register and vote. The information is presented in multiple formats: American Sign Language (ASL), audio voice-over, and close-captioning text.

 

"3 Ways to Vote" video with an ASL translation. Video courtesy of Martin County Election Center.

 

Since English and ASL are two completely different languages (with different syntax and grammar), people who know both are bilingual. Many ASL users are proficient in written English, but many read it like a second language, which can make technical voting jargon difficult to understand. So translating your election materials into ASL can reach voters who otherwise might struggle. As a bonus, the gesture shows the deaf and hard of hearing community that their votes matter too — a sentiment expressed in the name “Count Me in Too!”.

Kherri Anderson, the Deputy of Elections Outreach, says the idea originated during a community advisory board meeting in 2016. The board’s “resounding concern” was the lack of resources available to Martin County residents with disabilities. After double-checking with the other 66 Florida counties, they discovered nobody had yet created accessible videos explaining the voting process.

 
Kherri (left) with the ASL translator (right), in the studio to record the videos. Photo courtesy of Martin County Elections Center.

Kherri (left) with the ASL translator (right), in the studio to record the videos. Photo courtesy of Martin County Elections Center.

 

The Elections team partnered closely with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of Treasure Coast to create English and ASL scripts for the video. They also partnered with MCTV, the television channel run by the Board of County Commissioners, who agreed to help at no cost. An ASL translator from the community (hired for $500) signed the videos, and Kherri read the English voice-over. “If you build partnerships with your local community and government partners, they are more than willing to help you,” Kherri says. “Our office is constantly in the community asking what we can do to serve them and because of that we have 100% of their support.”

 
Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis (center) receiving an award from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Photo courtesy of Martin County Elections Center.

Supervisor of Elections Vicki Davis (center) receiving an award from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Photo courtesy of Martin County Elections Center.

 

After creating the two videos (How to Register to Vote and 3 Ways to Vote), the Elections team hoped to see a 5% increase in turnout among voters with disabilities. The videos were published on the county website, on YouTube, on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services website, and were aired daily on MCTV. The actual results exceeded expectations — turnout increased by 8% among voters with disabilities! The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services heard positive feedback from their consumers, and presented the county an award for the outreach program. “I love outreach,” Kherri says, “and we enjoy creating programs to help our voters be election ready!”

Contra Costa County, California Creates and Maintains Accessible Polling Places

Polling places are often physically inaccessible to voters with disabilities. During the 2016 election, the Government Accountability Office examined 178 polling places, and 60% had at least one potential impediment. The most common were:

  • Steep ramps or curb cuts

  • Entrance door thresholds over ½ inch high

  • Poor parking, pathway, or ramp surfaces

  • A lack of signage for accessible paths

Luckily most have temporary Election Day fixes, like blocking off hazards, using traffic cones to create accessible parking, and placing mats over broken pathways. But creating an accessible polling place is one thing, and maintaining it is another. Throughout Election Day, propped-open doors can close, traffic cones can shift, and rubber mats can fold. With hundreds of voters entering and exiting, polling places that are accessible in the morning can become inaccessible by the afternoon.

Contra Costa County, California, home to 631,040 registered voters, addresses this problem through exceptional poll worker training and management. The first APPLE classes (Accessible Polling Place Location and Equipment classes) were held in January 2018. The classes were immediately successful (and you may remember them from a previous electionline article and EAC blog). Essentially, the classes explain the importance of accessibility from the voter’s perspective. The classes focus less on technical procedures and more on the reasoning behind the procedures, so poll workers understand why accessibility is a priority.

 
Poll workers learning about accessibility in an APPLE class. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

Poll workers learning about accessibility in an APPLE class. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

 

According to Sophie Lehman, the Election Services Manager, poll workers acted on their new knowledge in the June 2018 elections. “Among those who attended an APPLE class, 60% said they maintained the accessible path of travel and a quarter said they identified and corrected an issue. This was an incredible shift considering they had attended one class and this was the first election after that.”

Sophie says the “feedback made it clear poll workers were embracing their role in making their polling places accessible and we wanted to capitalize on this.” Normally, the Elections team handled the accessibility modifications, but seeing the enthusiasm of APPLE trainees, they felt ready to assign poll workers additional responsibilities. Contra Costa began brainstorming the Accessibility Kit program in July 2018, and rolled it out in November.

An Accessibility Kit was provided to every polling place, containing the equipment and instructions to set up and maintain the accessibility modifications. The Kits included an aerial map of the polling place (created by annotating Google Earth images), an overview of that location’s barriers and how to fix them, and generalized accessibility guides. The guides use simple instructions and images to help poll workers identify any new barriers and correct them.

 
Aerial map of a polling place, annotated with accessibility modifications. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

Aerial map of a polling place, annotated with accessibility modifications. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa Elections.

 

Sophie says there are many benefits to the Accessibility Kits. First, “instead of limiting knowledge and responsibility to just one of our staff members, we democratized the process and gave the knowledge and responsibility to all of the poll workers at each location.” This ensures that accessibility is vigilantly maintained throughout the day, not just in the morning. Second, the Elections team allocated human resources more efficiently, instead of making staff drive around the county setting up polling places. Third, once created, the Accessibility Kits can easily be updated and redeployed every election.

The APPLE classes and Accessibility kits go hand-in-hand, first arming poll workers with accessibility principles and then providing them with tools. “Making the kits was a lot of work on the front end,” Sophie says. “But for us, the payoff was well worth it. The upfront investment of time and resources ensured that Election Day was smooth.”

Iowa Secretary of State Educates Veterans and Iowans with Disabilities on Available Resources

No matter how accessible a polling place is, the perception of inaccessibility can keep people away. In a survey of people who hadn’t voted in-person in 10 years, 40% of respondents with disabilities expected to encounter difficulties at the polls, compared to 1% of respondents without disabilities.

Educational outreach isn’t easy. 90% of local election officials are like Kherri, and enjoy educating voters, but only 35% say they have enough time and resources to do it. So it’s a game-changer when outreach gets prioritized at the state level.

When Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate took office in 2015, he launched a statewide outreach initiative for veterans and Iowans with disabilities. “The key is letting people know the resources that are available to them,” he explains. “Voting can be easy and accessible for someone with a disability, but we have to make sure they have the information available to them.”

 
Iowa veterans with disabilities registering to vote. Photo from official Iowa Secretary of State Facebook page.

Iowa veterans with disabilities registering to vote. Photo from official Iowa Secretary of State Facebook page.

 

An estimated 300,000 Iowans of voting age have some type of disability, nearly 10% of the state’s population. Given the large overlap with military veterans, Secretary Pate strategically targeted outreach toward both groups. His office distributed tens of thousands of brochures, launched several Facebook Ad and Google Ad campaigns, and produced bipartisan videos explaining available resources. For each of these, two versions were created -- one aimed at the general disabilities population, and one aimed at veterans. The office also hired an outreach coordinator and worked with veterans-affiliated groups and disability-affiliated groups.

Iowa partnered with the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council to conduct workshops in 21 counties — and Secretary Pate intends to continue offering these as long as he’s in office. The informal workshops give Iowans with disabilities a chance to learn about resources and ask questions. “One of the best stories out of the workshops,” says Secretary Pate, was a veteran of 30 years. “He was 65 years old, had served our country honorably and defended our right to vote, but had never voted. Immediately after attending our workshop, he walked over to the county auditor’s office and voted for the first time in his life. That’s what this program is all about.”

 
“A lot of voters don’t know curbside voting is an option, so having these signs at each voting location are a big help,” says Secretary Pate (left in photo). Photo from official Facebook page.

“A lot of voters don’t know curbside voting is an option, so having these signs at each voting location are a big help,” says Secretary Pate (left in photo). Photo from official Facebook page.

 

The office also reviewed accessibility aids for blind and vision-impaired Iowans, including an assessment of Braille polling place materials and their availability at every precinct. And since many use a screen reader to navigate websites, the online voter registration portal was updated to be screen reader-friendly — which is especially notable considering most states’ voter registration portals are not. Then, in partnership with the Iowa Council of the United Blind, Iowans with vision impairments were trained on accessible voting equipment ahead of Election Day to avoid any confusion around how to operate it.

To ensure an accessible Election Day, the state also worked closely with local election offices. “County auditors were very receptive to the initiative,” explains Secretary Pate, partially because “this made their jobs easier as well.” Tablets with the ADA Checklist for Polling Places were provided to all 99 counties, and curbside voting signs were distributed to all 1,700 polling places, and these resources were “very well received” by county auditors. The office also created several videos aimed at Election Day workers and voters. For Election Day workers, the videos demonstrate how to set up and operate accessible voting equipment. For voters, the videos demonstrate how to vote using that equipment.

 

Video demonstrating how to use an AutoMARK voting machine. Video courtesy of Iowa Secretary of State website.

 

One of the criteria for Clearie winners is replicability. Even though Iowa’s initiative is daunting in its entirety, Secretary Pate suggests that many of these actions “are things every state in the country can do.” Funding can be an obstacle, but elections offices don’t need to shoulder the entire cost burden themselves. For example, Disability Rights Iowa helped pay for the curbside voting signs. “There are organizations in every state that would be interested in partnering on a program like this.”

Additional Resources

If you’d like to launch an accessible video campaign, you can contact Kherri at kanderso@MartinVotes.com for advice. If you’re interested in accessibility classes for poll workers or Accessibility Kits, you can reach Sophie at Sophie.Lehman@vote.cccounty.us. And if you want information about any of Iowa’s trainings and outreach, contact the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

The EAC provides many voting accessibility resources, as does the Center for Civic Design. The ADA Checklist for Polling Places is a good overview of physical polling place accessibility, as is Solutions for Five Common ADA Access Problems. If you would like to partner with disability groups, the National Disability Rights Network has a chapter in every state and is an excellent place to begin.

Finally, we offer a training on Accessible Communication for Election Offices which can be delivered in a 90-minute format or a 5-hour format, depending on your office’s needs. The training focuses on how people with disabilities experience election websites, social media, and other election materials.


How have you made your elections more accessible for voters with disabilities? Tell us about your experience by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org.

Multnomah County, Oregon Lets Voters Pre-Order Replacement Ballots

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2019. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org — we'd love to share your story!


When people discuss Election Day lines, they usually mean lines at polling places. But administering elections is complicated and bottlenecks can form at any point in the process. Oregon conducts all-mail elections, theoretically sidestepping the polling place problem, but the line at the Multnomah County Elections Division office would sometimes stretch out the door and around the block.

Why? Because voters do things like misplace their ballot, spill coffee on it, and move to a new neighborhood with a different ballot style. Only a small percentage of voters need replacement ballots, but in large jurisdictions, it adds up quickly. Multnomah County, home to Portland and 535,000 active registered voters, issues thousands of replacement ballots during major elections — nearly 20,000 in the November 2016 election alone. A few days before Election Day, replacement ballots can no longer be mailed, so voters wait in line at the election office.

In 2016, Multnomah County implemented a solution: the Order Ahead Replacement Ballot Service. Voters fill out a form online or call ahead, and their ballot packet is ready when they arrive at the office. It’s a win-win for the voter and the elections office. “It really is about putting the voter first and valuing their time,” says Tim Scott, the Director of Multnomah County Elections. “The side benefit for us is the increased efficiency of the process.”

 
Multnomah County Elections staff helping a voter at the customer service desk. Photo courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

Multnomah County Elections staff helping a voter at the customer service desk. Photo courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

 

Streamlining the Process

Previously, when a voter called Multnomah County Elections to request a replacement ballot, the phone-bank staffers would instruct them to visit the election office. Upon arrival, the process restarted with the front-desk staffers, who relayed the request to the ballot packet assembly team. The voter would wait in the lobby until their packet was ready and the entire transaction could take up to 5 minutes. The line continued to grow, especially since the same line served all voters regardless of their request.

Multnomah County brainstormed ways to address the long lines and the duplication of staff efforts. They took inspiration from the popular business trick of letting customers order ahead to avoid the line. Sports games and concerts have Will Call ticket booths, fast food restaurants let you pre-order, and retail giants let you “Buy Online, Pick Up in Store.” Why not do the same with ballots?

 
The dedicated Will Call line at the front desk. Photo courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

The dedicated Will Call line at the front desk. Photo courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

 

Multnomah County’s adapted solution, the Order Ahead Replacement Ballot Service, has two components. First, voters fill out an online form (or, if they call the office, it is filled out on their behalf) and the data is automatically sent to an office email inbox. Staff members monitor the inbox, look up the voter, and record the request in the Oregon Centralized Voter Registration database. If there is a problem (e.g., the voter’s ballot has already been accepted, or the voter’s record cannot be found), a staff member will contact the voter. If there are no problems, a request is automatically sent to the ballot assembly department to print off a label personalized with the voter’s address, ballot style number, ballot envelope ID number, and barcode. After the packet is assembled, it’s either mailed to the voter or stored in a Will Call file, depending on the voter’s preference and how soon Election Day is.

The second component is designating a line specifically for ballot replacement Will Call. Since the ballot packet is ready when the voter arrives, there is no need to wait in the same line as voters with more involved questions. Voters can walk up to the Will Call sign, request their packet, and leave. “Voters who use it love it,” Tim says. “They are always kind of amazed when they arrive and have a dedicated line just for them and then the transaction takes just seconds.”

 
Elections office floorplan, including the Will Call ballot pick up line. Figure courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

Elections office floorplan, including the Will Call ballot pick up line. Figure courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

 

The data speaks for itself. In 2016, the year this process debuted, 2,507 voters ordered their replacement ballot with the new online tool. 27% of visits to the front counter were voters picking up their Will Call ballots. Tim compares the 2016 General election performance to the same days in 2012: “We served 682 more voters in the last two days of the [2016] election and the Election Day line was one third the size.” The results were even better in November 2018, when “1,365 more people visited our office on the last two days of the election than in 2016 and the line never grew past the 2016 point.”

 
The 2012 line stretches around the block, compared to the much shorter 2016 line. Figure courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

The 2012 line stretches around the block, compared to the much shorter 2016 line. Figure courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

 

Implementing the Program

As often happens in election administration, it took years for order-ahead balloting to evolve from an idea into a plan. Multnomah County first brainstormed the idea in 2013 during a strategic planning process, but didn’t have the bandwidth to roll out the program until 2016. “Because we have such a small staff we couldn’t tackle all of the great ideas we came up with during that 2013 session at once,” Tim explains.

In order to implement the program, the team needed to build the web tool, create the new style of ballot labeling, reorganize the customer service area to create a Will Call lane, and train staff (including front counter, phone bank, and ballot fulfillment staff). And the communications team had to educate voters about the option.

 
Promotional tweet from Multnomah County Elections for the November 2018 elections.

Promotional tweet from Multnomah County Elections for the November 2018 elections.

 

During the 2016 presidential primary, “despite very little promotion, hundreds of people used the new process,” Tim says. “So we decided to really hype it for the November general and it was amazing.” On Monday the week before Election Day, the online form was prominently displayed on the website homepage and promoted on social media. The team even created a cute promotional video showing Multnomah voters what to do if the dog ate their ballot:

 

Promotional video to educate voters on the order-ahead option. Video courtesy of Multnomah County Elections.

 

Not much has changed since debuting the Order Ahead Ballot Replacement Service. The county opened a second elections office, so now voters can choose the most convenient location to pick up their ballot, and the Will Call filing system was tweaked slightly to accommodate the volume. Other than those changes, the service operates as originally conceived. It took some effort and thoughtfulness to initially implement, but has run smoothly ever since.

Streamlining Your Own Office

The order-ahead model is a simple, low-cost solution, and Tim explains that “any locality that does a lot of in-person ballot issuing could utilize this model if their rules allow it.” Highly-populated jurisdictions in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado will find this solution most applicable, and other Oregon jurisdictions have already shown interest in reproducing it. States that allow no-excuse absentee voting, or hold individual all-mail elections, may also find this particularly useful.

 
The Multnomah County Elections office from above.

The Multnomah County Elections office from above.

 

Even if this model doesn’t fit your office’s needs, all jurisdictions — large or small, all-mail or traditional — can benefit from streamlining voter interactions. Just ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are common reasons voters visit your office?

  • When do you need voters physically present, like getting a wet signature?

  • Are there steps they could do beforehand, like filling out a form?

  • Are there steps you could do beforehand, like printing their files?

If your jurisdiction is tiny and your office has never seen a line, good customer service still goes a long way with voters. Positive interactions bolster their confidence in elections and increase their likelihood of voting. Any office can use low-cost technology, like an online form that forwards data to an email inbox, in combination with good process design.

If you have questions about Multnomah County’s Order Ahead Ballot Replacement Service or want advice implementing something similar, you can reach out to Tim by emailing tim.scott@multco.us. And for election officials who are thinking about how to minimize lines at your polling places, check out the Polling Place Resource Planner. Using this tool can help you make decisions about things like polling place setup, staffing, and equipment.


Have you found solutions for long lines around Election Day, whether at your office or at polling places? Tell us about your experience by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org.

Arlington County, Virginia keeps Election Workers trained with Slideshow Refresher

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in February 2019. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org — we'd love to share your story!


Recruiting and training poll workers is a major focus for elections offices, and for good reason. There is a national shortage of poll workers, and the quality of training can make or break the voter’s experience.

But training poll workers is one thing. Keeping them trained is another. Some poll workers are trained weeks before Election Day. Returning poll workers often skip trainings entirely, since it would be a waste of time for veterans to spend hours relearning the basics. On Election Day, even well-trained workers struggle if the training is not fresh in their minds.

Arlington County, Virginia keeps their election workers trained with self-paced slideshows that workers can complete in 10 minutes or less. The slideshows include built-in videos and quizzes to test workers’ knowledge and preparedness.

Supplementing In-Person Training

The vast majority of Virginia counties (around 80%) have fewer than 50,000 active registered voters, making Arlington one of the largest at over 150,000. That number is expected to rise as the population continues to grow. Arlington just appointed 1,200 election workers for the upcoming cycle, and has prioritized online training supplements in its strategic plan.

 
Gretchen Reinemeyer, Deputy Registrar. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

Gretchen Reinemeyer, Deputy Registrar. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

 

“Large localities have to start training workers several weeks before an Election,” explains Gretchen Reinemeyer, the Deputy Registrar of the Arlington County Electoral Board. “This solution offers workers who attended training at the beginning of the cycle a chance to review the materials immediately before an election.”

Arlington’s slideshows are meant to supplement, not replace, longer in-person trainings. They act as pre-Election Day refreshers that workers can use to review the material. Workers move through the slides at their own pace, reviewing exactly what they need and ignoring what they already know.

The slideshows include normal slides, slides with YouTube videos, and quiz slides. The YouTube videos review complicated procedures like voting machine setup. The quiz slides are important for two reasons: 1) Election officials can assess their poll workers without using an online portal and logins. 2) Quizzes help prepare poll workers. According to memory retention experts, quizzes and tests are better for your memory than traditional studying.

Creating the Slideshow and Quiz

Making a slideshow interactive takes longer than assembling a basic presentation, requiring an additional 2-4 hours depending on the length. Gretchen advises patience. “Be prepared to mess up and have to start from scratch. It takes time to learn, implement, and test a new technology.”

Despite taking longer to initially prepare, the slideshows end up saving Arlington County time. They spend less time assessing workers, since the slideshow acts as a preparedness test, and they spend less time doing in-person trainings for returning workers. Gretchen calls it “a one-stop solution for training and testing,” easily worth the couple hours it takes to prepare.

 
Gretchen Reinemeyer working on presentations. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

Gretchen Reinemeyer working on presentations. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

 

Arlington County uses Google Slides, a free online tool for creating presentations. Microsoft PowerPoint will also work, but PowerPoint costs money if your office does not already use Microsoft Office.

For complicated procedures, like how to operate voting machines, videos that walk you through the process are incredibly helpful. Google Slides lets you embed YouTube videos directly into the slideshow. Watching the videos is optional, allowing workers to decide for themselves whether they need a review.

 
Screenshot from Arlington's June Primary training refresher. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

Screenshot from Arlington's June Primary training refresher. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

 

Building the quiz questions into the slides is the real “technology hack,” according to Gretchen, and other counties have already begun asking how she does it. Workers cannot move forward in the presentation until they click the correct answer, and they must answer every question correctly to get credit.

To create a quiz, you need 3 slides per question: the question slide, the wrong answer slide, and the correct answer slide.

 
Screenshots from Arlington's Provisional Ballot Training. Adapted from photos courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

Screenshots from Arlington's Provisional Ballot Training. Adapted from photos courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

 

Just like you embed hyperlinks that take you to a different website, you can embed hyperlinks that take you to a different slide. In the above example, clicking the “TRUE” button takes you to the “Correct!” slide, and clicking the “FALSE” button takes you to the “Sorry, try again” slide.

Normally slideshows move to the next slide if you click anywhere on the slide, so you need to lay a transparent box over the whole slide, and then hyperlink it to the current slide. This way, election workers can only move forward in the presentation if they actually click the correct button.

At the end of the presentation, a webform link lets the election worker provide feedback and get credit for the training. Webforms conveniently don’t need accounts or passwords. Google Forms is one good free option.

Listening to Poll Worker Feedback

Developing this solution took experimentation, trial-and-error, and listening to feedback. Over the years the office tested several types of online training, each with drawbacks. The first system required workers to log in, but creating an account and remembering a password is inconvenient, so the completion rate was low. Next, the office allowed workers to test out of training. Returning poll workers were glad to skip in-person training, but wished they had some instruction.

This feedback helped the Arlington office shape their hybrid method, a combination of testing and optional review. Feedback on this method has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Gretchen says, because workers find it “clear, concise, and convenient.” After completing the training, 92% of respondents feel confident they can perform their duties.

Screenshot from Arlington’s post-training feedback form. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

Screenshot from Arlington’s post-training feedback form. Photo courtesy of the Arlington Elections department.

In the future, Arlington will expand their library of slideshows to cover topics they don’t have time to cover during in-person classes. Again, the office will rely on feedback to decide which trainings to add. They were surprised to learn most Arlington workers want a review of Federal and State Election Law. “Listen to your workers,” Gretchen says. “They will tell you what they need.”

Quiz Example (3 Steps)

STEP 1: Make the background unclickable.

Google Slides automatically moves to the next slide when clicked anywhere. To prevent this, place a large transparent box over the entire slide. Then, on that box, insert a link to the current slide.

 
 

STEP 2: Make buttons that link to other slides.

Add shapes and text for every answer. Then, link each “button” to the appropriate slide. Create a “Wrong answer” and a “Right answer” slide for each question with buttons that link forward (if correct) or backward (if incorrect).

 
 

STEP 3: Test your slides.

Test your slides! For every question, click the wrong answer(s) first, then the right answer. Make sure everything works the way you expect!

 
 

Additional Resources

If you have questions about Arlington’s presentations or need advice for making your own, you can reach out to Gretchen by emailing Greinemeyer@arlingtonva.us.

One of our professional development courses, Poll Worker Management Best Practices, goes in-depth into recruiting, training, coordinating, and evaluating poll workers. Additionally, the Center for Civic Design has a Field Guide on Effective Poll Worker Materials.


How has your office tackled the challenge of keeping election workers trained? Tell us about your experience by emailing keegan@techandciviclife.org.

Los Angeles County Gets Voters to the Polls with New Rideshare Partnership

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in October 2018. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Los Angeles is known as a city of cars, highways, and lots of traffic. But not everyone in the area owns a vehicle, and some parts of the region are hard to access using public transit or taxi service.

That’s why, for the June 5, 2018 election, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office explored a new program to help voters get to their polling places. Partnering with rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, the election office made it possible for carless voters to look up their polling place and immediately request a ride to get them on their way.

For Aaron Nevarez, who works as Division Manager for Governmental and Legislative Affairs in the RR/CC office, the rideshare partnership was about giving voters additional opportunities to vote, while using habits they already have in place.

“The rideshare apps are very popular in LA County,” explains Aaron. “So, this partnership made sense and helped us offer more convenient options for our voters.”

Eliminating roadblocks

By any measure, Los Angeles County is massive. With a population topping 10 million people, it’s the most populous county in the nation. And its physical size -- over 4,700 square miles -- makes it more than half as big as the state of New Jersey.

Rugged and urban: Los Angeles County

Rugged and urban: Los Angeles County

With all that space, it’s not surprising that the county has areas without easy access to public transit or taxis. Election administrators had been aware of transportation challenges for voters for some time, and in the lead up to the June 2018 primary, they wondered if rideshare services could help to fill some of the transportation gaps.

“Our office is always looking for ways to improve the voting experience,” Aaron says. “The goal of looking into a rideshare program was to eliminate roadblocks that could possibly prevent voters from getting to their polling place on Election Day.”

Transportation definitely ranks as one of the most common barriers to voting -- and not just in Los Angeles County, but around the nation.

According to the 2016 Survey of the Performance of American Elections, for the 2016 General Election, about 30% of nonvoters cited transportation as either a major or minor factor that kept them from participating. That’s many millions of people nationwide.

Over the years, Uber and Lyft have shown an interest in using their technology to support voters. So, Aaron says that when his team members reached out to the rideshare companies, “Both of them were receptive to our ideas about providing transportation on Election Day and were excited to do their part in civic engagement.”

Making the connections

The basic plan for the partnership was simple. The election office wanted to take LA County’s existing polling place lookup tool and add a function for requesting a ride via Lyft or Uber.

LA County voters have enthusiasm but may need a ride. Photos courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

LA County voters have enthusiasm but may need a ride. Photos courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

As a first step, Aaron says, the election office’s public affairs team worked with the two companies to iron out the logistics of linking their apps to the polling place locator website. Then, once that logistical process was complete, the technical aspects of the integration could begin.

“After receiving the go-ahead from both companies, our office’s web developers accessed Lyft’s and Uber’s servers, allowing them to add Lyft’s and Uber’s apps to our Poll Locator,” recalls Aaron.

Finally, after a period of testing and review by both companies, the integration was ready to be rolled out for public use.

The lookup tool with Lyft and Uber request buttons. Photo courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

The lookup tool with Lyft and Uber request buttons. Photo courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

At the end of May, Dean Logan, Registrar of Voters, announced the rideshare partnership to the community. For the June 5 primary, voters could go to LA County’s polling place locator web page, enter their information, find their polling place, and then request a ride there using Uber or Lyft.

Picking up civic participation

LA County’s rideshare partnership attracted positive attention for its innovative approach. Several local media outlets reported on the program, helping to promote awareness throughout the county.

Ultimately, although the RR/CC office is still assessing data to determine the number of Lyft rides that originated from its website, Aaron reports that 210 people requested Uber rides from the polling place lookup tool during the June election -- a respectable showing for the area’s first rideshare partnership.

“We believe the partnership was a success for all parties,” Aaron says, adding that the county’s election administration will be pursuing additional partnership plans with Uber and Lyft in the future.

Registrar of Voters Dean Logan addresses the media on election night in June. Photo courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

Registrar of Voters Dean Logan addresses the media on election night in June. Photo courtesy of the LA County RR/CC.

“Right now we are drawing up some ideas to propose to both companies,” Aaron says, “and we will work collaboratively to see what best suits the interests of the voters and stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber have recently stepped up their civic engagement efforts throughout the country. In fact, both companies will provide free or discounted services to voters with significant obstacles during the November 2018 election.

If you’re curious, you can read more about Lyft’s work affirming “the ride to vote” and Uber’s goal to “drive the vote” (puns are still big in Silicon Valley) on their websites.

If you’re an election official thinking about forging a rideshare partnership in your area, Aaron encourages you to reach out to both companies, be clear about your needs and goals, and establish a relationship. That’s what worked for LA County, where the RR/CC office’s goal to overcome barriers to voting lined up nicely with Uber and Lyft’s ongoing interest in promoting the “social good.”

For Aaron, the partnership in June was a success -- but also just a first step. “We anticipate having a lasting relationship with both Lyft and Uber for all future elections,” he says.


How have you overcome transportation hurdles for voters in your community? Tell us about your experience by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org.

Orange County, Florida Recruits Election Workers with Adopt-a-Precinct Program

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in May 2018. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Serving as a poll worker is one of the best ways you can give back to your community, but it can be difficult work. You have to work fourteen hours or more, manage lots of paperwork, and you’re often working alongside people you don’t know. The pay is nice but usually modest.

With its Adopt-a-Precinct program, Orange County, Florida tries to make participating a little more attractive by transforming Election Day into a fundraising and team building opportunity for community groups. In return, the county benefits from the high number of organized, tech-savvy election workers who volunteer through the program. 

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” says Timothy Frazier, who works as Elections Coordinator for the Orange County Supervisor of Elections and manages the program.

Tackling challenges

With Orlando as its county seat, Orange County is one of the most populous counties in Florida and home to nearly 800,000 registered voters. Bill Cowles has played a role in administering elections here since 1989 and has served as Supervisor of Elections since 1996. 

The roots of the Adopt-a-Precinct program run almost as deep. 

Bill Cowles prepares to sign an oversized Adopt-a-Precinct check. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Bill Cowles prepares to sign an oversized Adopt-a-Precinct check. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Inspired by the Adopt-a-Highway initiatives that emerged to help communities share the burden of roadside litter, Bill created the Adopt-a-Precinct program in 1998 to tackle challenges of poll worker recruitment. Corporate America was originally the program’s target audience, but over the years, there’s been much more involvement by civic organizations and community groups, as Timothy explains. 

“We found that not only did local businesses want to participate -- how the program was originally designed -- but some of our precincts (especially churches) wanted to adopt themselves, which led us to also bring on civic clubs, fraternities and sororities, and school booster clubs.”

The basics of the program are simple. 

A community group agrees to adopt a precinct and designates a staff member to serve as Coordinator. The Coordinator is then responsible for finding ten volunteers in their organization to staff the polls and works with a county Precinct Service Clerk to arrange training for the group. Finally, the group works on Election Day, and instead of paying each worker separately, the Supervisor of Elections office cuts a single check for the whole group. 

Sharing benefits

When all’s said and done, the Adopt-a-Precinct program brings substantial benefits for the election office as well as for the adopting group. Let’s start by looking at how it helps the election officials.

Orange County’s Election Department staff. L-R: Mary Hignight, Michelle Torres, Cindy Clark, Marissa Corrente, and Timothy Frazier. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Orange County’s Election Department staff. L-R: Mary Hignight, Michelle Torres, Cindy Clark, Marissa Corrente, and Timothy Frazier. Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Firstly, the partnerships help solve problems of recruitment, as each adoption brings ten poll workers who, in effect, recruit themselves. 

“With the current number of precincts adopted,” Timothy explains, “there are over 800 poll workers and back-ups who we do not have to recruit.” 

That’s a big number, and Timothy says that the numbers are even higher during presidential elections. For instance, for the 2016 General Election, community groups adopted 110 precincts, or about 44% of the county’s total. These adoptions amounted to 1,100 poll workers who didn’t need to be recruited.

In addition, the groups who volunteer bring a major strength that distinguishes them from ordinary poll workers: they know each other. It’s a small detail that has a big impact.

“Each Adopt-a-Precinct Coordinator knows their group,” observes Timothy. “They already know the leader and those who do best by following. They also know those who have technical skills and those who might do better in less technical roles.”

As a result, these groups bring a degree of coordination and skill that would be hard to find otherwise. The adopting teams tend to be a bit younger than poll workers at large, too.

As far as the participating groups are concerned, the most obvious benefits are to serve their community and earn money. According to Timothy, the two things often go hand in hand.

“We promote the program as a fundraiser based on civic engagement, while giving back to the community,” he says. “We currently have many 501(c)(3) organizations who use the earnings from our Adopt-a-Precinct program in their general budget. In fact, most groups end up redistributing their earnings back into the community through scholarships, social programs, school programs, or community outreach.”

Although many groups have adopted precincts over the years, there’s one group in Orange County that stands out for its involvement: the local chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. 

Phi Beta Sigma members at an adopted polling place. Photo courtesy of the Gamma Delta Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Phi Beta Sigma members at an adopted polling place. Photo courtesy of the Gamma Delta Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Instead of just one precinct, the Sigmas adopt six, and in 2016, they raised over $22,000 during the three countywide elections. The best part? “This money was redirected back into the community through scholarships to college-bound youth,” says Timothy. 

Adopting the program

Over the years, Orange County’s Adopt-a-Precinct program has been so successful that it’s spread throughout the Sunshine State, inspiring 22 other Florida counties to create their own iterations.

Of course, there’s no reason that Florida should get to have all the fun. Any election office can start a precinct adoption program and enjoy the same benefits that have come to Orange County. For those considering it, Timothy has some pointers. 

First, he encourages you to review your state’s laws and procedures around polling place staffing, emphasizing, “It is imperative these be followed to maintain the integrity of the election process.” 

What are the party requirements, language requirements, and registration requirements for poll workers? Your program will need to accommodate them.

Colonial High School Boys Basketball representatives receive their Adopt-a-Precinct check from Bill Cowles (far right) and Timothy Frazier (second from left). Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Colonial High School Boys Basketball representatives receive their Adopt-a-Precinct check from Bill Cowles (far right) and Timothy Frazier (second from left). Photo courtesy of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.

Second, he suggests that a good way to get started with a new Adopt-a-Precinct program is to approach your current polling locations and ask if they’d like to be involved. “Churches, in particular,” he observes, “are always looking for fundraisers, and this is a perfect opportunity for them and for you to introduce the program to your community. They can earn more money in one day than they would holding countless bake sales, car washes, etc.”

This year, Orange County’s program is marking twenty years of successfully recruiting dedicated, civically minded teams to work the polls while also supporting the local community. As he looks forward to the second half of 2018, Timothy hopes to deepen the program’s impact, with a goal to increase the number of adopted precincts by 10% for the August primary and by another 5% for November. 


How has your election office tackled the challenge of recruiting election workers? What kinds of community partnerships have you explored? Share your playbook by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org. We’re ready to feature your success story. 
 

Cape Girardeau County, Missouri Asks High Schoolers to Design a New “I Voted” Sticker

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2018. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Anyone who’s worked the polls on Election Day can testify to the appeal of the “I Voted” sticker. It’s a hot commodity among voters, who proudly wear the sticker to display their civic participation and encourage others to turn out. In recent years, research has confirmed the anecdotes, revealing the social psychology behind the sticker.

This year in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, voters will be wearing a new, distinctive “I Voted” sticker. 

That’s because instead of buying generic stickers, county election officials held a sticker design contest for high school students. The competition, which officials hope to repeat in the future, encourages the area’s young adults to reflect on the democratic process while helping voters feel stronger community identification and civic pride. 

“We wanted to do something new and exciting that was unique for our county,” explains Allen Seabaugh, Chief Deputy County Clerk and Supervisor of Elections.

The Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson, Missouri. Photo by the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization.

The Cape Girardeau County Courthouse in Jackson, Missouri. Photo by the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization.

Getting inspiration from others

With about 80,000 residents and 50,000 registered voters, Cape Girardeau County is a steadily growing community along the Mississippi river in Southeast Missouri. River city Cape Girardeau stands out as the most populous municipality, but the county government is based in the more central city of Jackson. 

According to County Clerk Kara Clark Summers, however, the inspiration for the county’s sticker design contest came from far beyond the county’s borders. 

In the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Election, a local high school civics teacher asked her students to research different “I Voted” stickers from across the nation, and she shared some of the designs with Kara and inquired about why the county used the stickers that it did. Kara admitted that the reason was affordability, but the discussion planted a seed for doing something more ambitious. 

Kara and Allen were impressed with some of the stickers they saw and the stories behind them.

Cape Girardeau County’s election team. L-R: Kathy Friedrich, Allen Seabaugh, Kara Clark Summers, Shu Siebert, and Sherri LoMedico. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

Cape Girardeau County’s election team. L-R: Kathy Friedrich, Allen Seabaugh, Kara Clark Summers, Shu Siebert, and Sherri LoMedico. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

“While our sticker was pretty generic and looked similar to others,” Kara recalls, “some stood out to us. Louisiana’s and New York’s were some of those that really stood out to us as unique. That is when the idea came about of having an ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest in our county.”

In addition to looking unusual, the Louisiana and New York City stickers were the focus of major media campaigns to get the public excited. Louisiana honored artist George Rodrigue with its “Blue Dog” sticker design, and New York City held a competition to contribute designs for its sticker

If New York City could do it, why not Cape Girardeau County?

Designing the contest

Kara and Allen decided to create their own sticker design contest and target local high school students to participate, feeling it would be “a great way to get high school students involved in the election process,” Kara says. 

They knew running the contest would take more time and resources than just buying their old, off-the-shelf stickers but remained dedicated to the idea. “We concluded,” observes Allen, “that it would be worth it to do something different.”

As a first step, Allen reached out to the New York City Campaign Finance Board to learn how their sticker design contest worked. Then, he contacted area high schools to provide information and support so that students would be encouraged to submit designs.

Contest materials. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

Contest materials. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

The only submission guidelines were that the design had to include the phrase “I Voted,” incorporate the theme of voting in Missouri or the U.S., and be able to fit on a circular sticker two inches in diameter. 

A panel of judges assessed submissions and chose four finalists, and then the County Clerk’s office invited members of the public to vote for their favorite using SurveyMonkey, a website that allows users to create custom surveys and polls.

“We wanted the voters in our county to have a say in deciding the official sticker design,” Allen explains. He says that he and Kara gravitated to SurveyMonkey because “we wanted to choose a platform that would allow us to meet these criteria: one vote per person throughout the voting period and everyone could have access to the link to vote.”

Once voting ended, the Clerk’s office proudly announced the winning design. Submitted by Lydia Riehn of Jackson High School, it features the outline of the state of Missouri encircled in stars, with the phrase “I Voted” overlayed in a muted red text. At the bottom, the design includes the name of the county to stress its local roots. 

The winning sticker design

The winning sticker design

With the design selected, the final step was to arrange printing. “We received quotes on printing the new sticker,” Kara explains, “and were able to get our new sticker printed at a reasonable cost.”

Looking to Election Day

Ultimately Allen and Kara declared the competition a big success, and they received enthusiastic feedback from the community for their effort. “We have had a great public response to the contest and the new sticker,” Allen explains. Several news outlets even covered the contest and publicized the winning design, bringing positive attention to the Clerk’s office.

If other election offices want hold a sticker design competition, Allen has a few suggestions. First, think through the process from start to finish, anticipating everything that might -- and should -- happen. Next, consider how to accept submissions. Allowing hand-drawn submissions helps to include participants without computers or design software, but it brings logistical challenges. Finally, make a strong plan for promotion, thinking about who you want to participate and how best to reach them.

The printed stickers. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

The printed stickers. Photo courtesy of the Cape Girardeau County Clerk’s office.

Though their first contest was a success, next time Allen and Kara hope to get more submissions by opening up participation to everyone in the community and not just high schoolers.

In the meantime, they’re looking forward to seeing the sticker make an impact on elections this year. “Our poll workers are excited to give this sticker to the voters on Election Day,” says Allen. “Not only will voters receive a sticker that is unique to our county, but it was designed by a high school student from our county. We plan to make this a tradition,” he concludes, “by holding a contest every two years to keep our sticker new and exciting.”


Has your office also used a contest to engage the public? What kinds of things have you done to shake up the routine on Election Day? How do you reach out to community members who aren’t yet of voting age? Share your strategies by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org. We’re always collecting best practices to share with our readers.