Suburban Cook County, Illinois helps citizens become candidates with its Running for Office Starter Kit

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2017. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


When major political events like a presidential election happen, everyone’s attention turns to democracy and politics. But when people think about participating in government, most of us still tend to see ourselves as voters rather than as candidates. 

In Suburban Cook County, Illinois, the County Clerk’s office is trying to change that. Its Running for Office Starter Kit (RFO) was born out of the belief that getting on the ballot should be within the reach of every interested citizen. 

“Running for office should be easy,” says Cook County Clerk David Orr. “Unfortunately, it’s more daunting than it should be. With our new Running for Office Starter Kit, so much of the information you need is at your fingertips.”

County Clerk David Orr. Photo courtesy of the Cook County Clerk's office.

County Clerk David Orr. Photo courtesy of the Cook County Clerk's office.

Launched in the fall of 2016 to help prospective candidates file for the April 2017 Consolidated Election, the RFO was set up by Director of Elections Noah Praetz, Deputy Chief of Staff Abdelnasser Rashid, and Candidate Services Manager Colleen Gleason. 

Breaking down barriers

Even though the word “suburban” might make it sound small, Suburban Cook County is one of the largest election jurisdictions in the United States. The Clerk’s office serves some 1.5 million voters in 126 municipalities, making it the third largest jurisdiction in the country after Los Angeles and Houston.

That’s all good, but in recent years, David and his team have identified a problem in local elections: low participation when it comes to running for office. “In April 2015, more than 63 percent of the 699 contests in Suburban Cook County were uncontested,” Noah observes. “We think one reason why is that getting on the ballot is often much harder than it should be.” 

Director of Elections Noah Praetz. Photo courtesy of the Cook County Clerk's office.

Director of Elections Noah Praetz. Photo courtesy of the Cook County Clerk's office.

The fact is, there’s a lot involved in running for office, and there are plenty of pitfalls for candidates who don’t carefully cross their t’s and dot their i’s. 

“You can face costly legal challenges against your paperwork,” says Noah, explaining that even the most innocent filing mistakes can be damaging. “Failure to staple petitions or notarize certain pages can doom your candidacy,” he admits.

Breaking down barriers and helping people weather the storm of running for office was the reason for creating the RFO. What they wanted to build, basically, was a lookup tool to provide citizens with information about public offices that they could run for and materials to streamline the candidate filing process. 

It was a longtime goal of David and Noah, and in 2015, Abdelnasser began making the RFO a reality by building its first prototype. 

The message behind the project, Noah explains, was to say to aspiring officeholders, “If you want to serve, we can help make the first step far less daunting.”

Combining data and design

If you’re a citizen contemplating a run for office, using the RFO is incredibly simple. When you visit the Running for Office website, you start by entering your home address. Once you do, the RFO identifies the districts you’re in and lists the offices that you can run for. 

The RFO displaying offices available to aspiring candidates

The RFO displaying offices available to aspiring candidates

If you find one that sparks your interest, you can read details about the office, the district, and the filing requirements. For park, school, and library offices, you can create a candidate packet. For municipal and township offices, there are links to access candidate materials from the relevant authority. Once you have your materials, you can prepare to file your paperwork and launch your candidacy. 

As you might imagine, data is at the heart of the Kit. But Abdelnasser emphasizes that what makes the RFO truly effective is the way that it combines data with design. 

“The tool is driven by the data,” he explains. “But the data alone would be useless if the interface was confusing and difficult to use. So we spent a lot of time making sure the tool was easy to use and the information easy to access and understand.”

Impacting local democracy

Since debuting the tool in October, the Clerk’s office has been pleased by the response to the RFO. 

“We’re very happy with how it has been used and we received lots of positive feedback,” reports Abdelnasser. “We also got ideas for improvement and have made a few changes based on those.”

In addition to verbal feedback, Noah and Abdelnasser have collected data on how aspiring candidates have actually used it, and the numbers are really encouraging.

The data shows, for one thing, that a lot of people are using the Kit. Between October and December 2016, 406 people created a candidate packet. Many more, no doubt, also used the RFO for information gathering without taking the step of making a packet. 

“This is an online tool with a positive and measurable offline impact,” Abdelnasser states. “It leads to real action that impacts our democracy.”

Deputy Chief of Staff Abdelnasser Rashid. Photo courtesy of the County Clerk's office.

Deputy Chief of Staff Abdelnasser Rashid. Photo courtesy of the County Clerk's office.

RFO data also indicates that people who download packets are quite likely to ultimately file to get on the ballot. For example, of the 288 people who created school board packets, 207 of them ended up filing. That rate -- 72% -- shows that people who use the RFO aren’t just doing it out of curiosity but are actually using it for the reason it was created: to run for office! 

“We’re seeing a high conversion rate of people going all the way to the candidate filing process,” Abdelnasser observes. “For us, that’s one indication that it works.”

Another exciting finding is the numbers of new candidates as compared to incumbents. Of those 207 people who filed for school offices, 61% were new candidates. This means that the Kit already seems to be helping to bring some fresh faces to the ballot. 

And who’s using the tool? If age is any indicator, there’s a good amount of diversity among users. The youngest person who created a candidate packet was 19, and the oldest was 79, with a mean age of 47.5 years. 

Reaching its goals

The Consolidated Election isn’t until next month, but it’s not too early to say that the RFO is already reaching its goals. By simplifying the first steps of running for office, it’s helped to support suburban Chicagoans in pursuing leadership positions. Even better, there’s evidence that the Kit is encouraging people to seek public office who haven’t done so before.

Looking at the Kit, you might assume it would be difficult to create or would require a big budget. But Abdelnasser says that wasn’t the case: “We used in-house developers and our staff curated the data from the disparate sources, allowing us to keep costs at a minimum.” 

If you’re interested in creating an RFO for your own community, he’s happy to help you get started with the first steps. “If others want to do it,” he says, “we would suggest not to recreate the wheel. We’re willing to share the data and the source code that powers the application.” 

If you’d like to take him up on his offer or ask any questions, you can contact him at abdelnasser.rashid@cookcountyil.gov


Helping citizens become candidates was a major goal driving the creation of the Running for Office Starter Kit. What tools or best practices have you created to help aspiring officeholders? Share your experience with us at hello@techandciviclife.org.
 

Measuring the impact of 3 election websites

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in December 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


9 jurisdictions around the country are using CTCL’s election website template, and with the close of the 2016 General Election season, we wanted to check in with some of them to hear how their websites have been performing. 

We reached out to 3 jurisdictions: Carroll County, Ohio; Inyo County, California; and Mercer County, West Virginia. Since launching in the summer of 2014, their websites have been viewed over 150,000 times! The election officials we spoke to shared feedback and told us about how their election websites have changed things in their offices. 

The power of simplicity

Above all else, the officials appreciate the fact that their websites are simple and easy for voters to use. Kammi Foote, the Clerk-Recorder-Registrar of Inyo County, California, says what she likes best about the Inyo County Elections website is that “it is mobile friendly and in plain language.”

Inyo County's election website

Inyo County's election website

In the past, Kammi posted election content on her county government website, but, she says, it was “non-mobile friendly and hard to navigate.” But today, the responsive web design and plain language of her new site have made it so that “The public and the media are very pleased to be able to find important civic information quickly.”

That’s also been the experience of Kathy Lambert, Deputy Clerk in Mercer County, West Virginia, who says she often gets positive feedback about how clear and intuitive the Mercer County Election Office website is. According to Kathy, voters frequently tell her “it’s really nice to have someplace to go to get information easily.”

Control and independence

Of course, a good election website should be not just easy for the public to use, but simple for office staff to maintain, too.

Kammi emphasizes that being able to maintain and update her own site has given her more independence when it comes to providing information. “Updating the election website has been very easy and efficient,” she explains, “and having the authority to independently update the website has resulted in faster posting of election results and updates.”

It’s hard to overstate the benefits of having control over your website. “I can’t imagine,” says Kammi, “having to go back to an Information Systems-controlled website with little or no control regarding when updates occur and how.”

Kathy says that, in Mercer County, her site has brought independence not just for office staff, but for poll workers, too. On Election Day, when the office is quite busy, poll workers can check voters’ registration information themselves using a portal on the Mercer election website. This means there’s no need to call the office. “The poll workers have said it really has come in handy because our phones are usually busy most of the day,” Kathy reports.

No news is good news

Although these officials have heard good feedback from the public about their websites, they say that an equally important sign of success is when they hear nothing at all. 

That’s because when voters, candidates, and journalists can find the election information they’re looking for online, there’s less need to contact the office.

Amanda Tubaugh, who serves as Deputy Director of the Board of Elections for Carroll County, Ohio, says that the biggest benefit of having the new Carroll County Board of Elections website is that “Public requests for information have decreased due to the amount of data we are able to place on our website. Election night calls,” she continues, “have also decreased due to placing the results on the website.”

Kathy’s noticed the same thing in Mercer County. She tells us that she used to get a lot of calls asking about past election results, but that’s all changed now. With the website, “I don’t have to look for all that information to give them,” she says. “It’s all right there on the site.”

Mercer County's election website

Mercer County's election website

When citizens no longer need to ask public servants for information, it benefits everybody. Folks in the community find what they need more quickly and easily, while election officials spend less time fielding routine inquiries and can address other tasks.

“It has helped ease the amount of work,” Amanda observes. 

Learning new skills

Election officials say that an additional benefit of having a new website is that it’s given them opportunities to develop new skills. 

Although she admits that she sometimes has to ask for help, Kathy believes that publishing and updating content online “is getting easier the more I work with the site.” She appreciates that maintaining the site pushes her to learn new things, and she hopes to continue learning.

In Inyo County, Kammi has had the same experience; she says that working on the site has helped her feel more confident about her tech skills. 

For instance, she says there was a time when she made a mistake and inadvertently deleted some important content. A voter called her to point out the problem, and it could have been a stressful situation, but Kammi persevered. 

“Because I had done regular back-ups of the website content,” she explains, “I was able to access the backup html and copy and paste the correct information.” She corrected her mistake in just a few minutes, and the best part, she says, was that “We figured out how to do it on our own! Yay, us!”

New ambitions 

Although these election websites have had a positive impact on their offices and communities, the election officials have ambitions to make them even better in the future. 

Carroll County's election website

Carroll County's election website

For example, Amanda says that she’d like to “add widgets to the white space on the site.” Explaining that the Ohio Secretary of State has produced widgets to help votes find election content, Amanda is hoping to use them in Carroll County as additional portals to information. 

Similarly, Kathy is hoping to enhance the election results on her site. “My favorite thing about the website is that you can look at present and past election results,” she says, but for future elections, she’d like to add “a live return of results where people can go to check as the precincts come in on election night.”

We’re confident that with a little time and effort, Amanda and Kathy will be able to achieve these goals in the months to come. 

With their websites, Amanda, Kathy, and Kammi are part of a learning community of election officials who are using technology to improve the voting experience in their counties. Combining their websites with their growing tech skills, they’re expanding public service while also, as Kammi says, “making our office more efficient.”

Do you know an election official who might benefit from a new election website? Tell them about CTCL’s election website template and training.


How has your election website impacted your office and community? Contact us at hello@techandciviclife.org. We’d love to tell your story. 

Floyd County, Virginia uses ham radio for backup communication on Election Day

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in October 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


As everybody who works in elections knows, you should expect the unexpected to happen on Election Day. Hopefully it’ll be something minor, like a small problem with poll workers or voting equipment. But what if it’s something major, like a flood, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake? How can you plan for something like that?

The Registrar’s office in Floyd County, Virginia offers one example. 

Amy Ingram, General Registrar for Floyd County, has created a contingency communication plan in the event that extreme weather or a natural disaster interferes with the normal lines of communication. Partnering with local amateur radio operators, Amy’s office has created a blueprint for coordinating polling places even if phone lines, mobile networks, and internet are down. 

Downtown Floyd, Virginia. Photo courtesy of the Town of Floyd.

Downtown Floyd, Virginia. Photo courtesy of the Town of Floyd.

Floyd County is situated about 30 miles southwest of Roanoke and 18 miles south of Blacksburg in Southwest Virginia. A rural county of rolling hills and cattle farming, it’s also home to a community of musicians and craftspeople who bring an artsy touch to the region. Floyd, the county seat, hosts FloydFest, an annual music and arts festival. Floyd County has just one traffic light, but it has nearly 11,000 registered voters who cast ballots at five polling places and a central absentee precinct. 

The need for a backup plan

In the last few years, Floyd County has felt the impact of several extreme natural events. “There was an earthquake and two tornadoes in Virginia that shut down phone lines and cell towers in recent years,” Amy explains. Fortunately these events didn’t happen close to Election Day, but they made Amy and her colleagues at the Registrar’s office wonder: what if they had? 

Amy realized that Floyd County elections needed a communications backup plan. “I wanted to have a way to contact the precincts in the event something did happen here on Election Day,” she says.

Floyd County’s late Emergency Services Director, Bobby Clark, was the one who took the initiative to create a partnership with local amateur radio operators. He found hams who volunteer for the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, or RACES. 

Bobby Clark (back left) poses with RACES volunteers Jason Gallimore (back right), Tom King (front left), and Dave Larsen (front right). Photo courtesy of Amy Ingram. 

Bobby Clark (back left) poses with RACES volunteers Jason Gallimore (back right), Tom King (front left), and Dave Larsen (front right). Photo courtesy of Amy Ingram. 

Created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, RACES provides support for government agencies in times of emergency. Jason Gallimore and Dee Wallace, who are volunteers with Floyd County’s RACES, explain that local radio operators get involved with the service because they have “a passion for radio communications and electronics” and “are looking for a way to better serve their community in times of need.”

According to Amy, getting the partnership off the ground wasn’t difficult. “A few planning meetings with the RACES group and the EMS director and we were ready to go,” she recalls. Current Emergency Services Director Kevin Sowers now oversees the RACES partnership in Floyd County.

Preparation and practice

In terms of emergency planning, the most important piece of the puzzle was figuring out the steps and strategy for what should happen on Election Day if communications are interrupted. Along with Bobby, Amy came up with a workable plan for deploying RACES volunteers to Floyd County’s polling places and, if needed, for performing an emergency precinct relocation. 

And since practice is always key for emergency preparation, RACES members perform drills and practice exercises in the weeks before every election. “The RACES group likes performing the Election Day exercise,” Amy explains, because “it gives them a time to practice and to fill a real need.”

Floyd County RACES volunteers Donna Johnson, Tom King, and Dave Larsen. Photo by Amy Ingram. 

Floyd County RACES volunteers Donna Johnson, Tom King, and Dave Larsen. Photo by Amy Ingram. 

Floyd County hasn’t had to rely on RACES for communications on Election Day yet, but the partnership has already been successful as far as Amy is concerned. “It was a success from the first time we implemented the service,” she observes. “The Officers of Election feel confident knowing if they can’t reach my office by phone on Election Day, the RACES group will be arriving at the precinct to set up communication.” 

Amateurs can be indispensable 

Amy admits that she didn’t know much about amateur radio until she got exposed to RACES, but she says that getting to know this local group of volunteers has convinced her that ham radio “is still a valid service” -- even in the age of smartphones and Facebook. 

Of course, this is something hams are well aware of. “Even as technology has progressed,” explain Jason and Dee, “the importance and purpose of amateur radio communications has stayed the same. Oftentimes, amateur radio communications are the only communications that work, particularly during times of natural disaster or communication grid failures.”

In short, ham radio’s simplicity and flexibility make it work when other platforms don’t. 

Are you interested in forming a partnership with an amateur radio group in your area? ARRL, the national association for amateur radio, maintains a directory of amateur radio organizations around the country, including sections of RACES and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, or ARES. It’s a great place to begin.

In addition, Amy has also offered to speak with election officials who are considering amateur radio as a communications backup. You can reach out to her at aingram@floydcova.org.

Finally, if Amy’s story has gotten you thinking about how well your election office is prepared to communicate during an emergency, check out our latest tech tutorial: Emergency Communication Guidelines


What kinds of emergency preparation have you implemented in your election office? Share your ideas with others by emailing us at hello@techandciviclife.org

Thurston County, Washington creates strategies for voter registration drives

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in September 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


This year, National Voter Registration Day is September 27. On this annual holiday, thousands of groups around the country will be holding voter registration drives -- setting up at your local college, grocery store, community center, library, or street corner. Their goal? To make sure that people who want to vote this November are registered. 

Voter registration drives are something that Mary Hall, Auditor for Thurston County, Washington, knows a lot about. The Auditor’s Office and community volunteers help organize and support registration efforts throughout the county. Recently, by combining community partnerships, strategic promotion, and youth outreach, she and her team have gotten voter registration drives down to a science. 

Part of the scenic Puget Sound region, Thurston County is home to Olympia, the state capital. In the Washington State Capitol building, you’ll find a large bronze bust of George Washington with an unusually shiny nose. That’s because for locals and visitors alike, it’s a longstanding tradition to rub Washington’s nose for good luck. 

Thurston County has about 168,700 registered voters -- but don’t be surprised if this number increases in the near future. The secret isn’t good luck. It’s good planning.

Forging partnerships

Mary is proud of the high voter turnout in the county -- around 80% -- and the local rate of voter registration is on par with national figures, but still her team is always working to increase these numbers. 

Like many other government offices, however, they’re trying to do more with less. “We have limited resources to staff voter registration drives,” explains Mary, adding that “The goal of the Auditor's Office to achieve high voter registration and high voter turnout must now be done with one less elections supervisor.”

Auditor Mary Hall and IT Consultant Ray Jacoby pose for a "graphic campaign." Photo by Valerie Walston.

Auditor Mary Hall and IT Consultant Ray Jacoby pose for a "graphic campaign." Photo by Valerie Walston.

Mary found a solution to the shortfalls of staff and resources in community partnerships. “We identify community partners with similar missions,” Mary says. “The League of Women Voters and the YWCA both seek to promote voting, voter registration, and civic participation, so those partners were obvious.”

These partner organizations contribute a lot to the registration drives. “They help us be the ‘boots on the ground’ during National Voter Registration Day events,” according to Valerie, “and they also help promote events and voter registration through social channels, press releases, etc.” Once the partnerships are established, Mary and her colleagues move on to other prep work.

“We identify areas with significant foot traffic (libraries, colleges, intercity transit centers, etc.) and book voter registration drives and assign staff. Then, we build voter registration kits, consisting of voter registration forms, ‘Register to Vote Here’ signs, ‘I Registered to Vote’ stickers, ‘iRegistered’ selfie signs, and table decor including tablecloths, flags, and table flag stands.”

Table decorated with flags, stickers, pens, and forms for National Voter Registration Day. Photo courtesy of Valerie Walston.

Table decorated with flags, stickers, pens, and forms for National Voter Registration Day. Photo courtesy of Valerie Walston.

Every election official knows how popular stickers are, and materials are another area where partnerships help out. “We utilize promotional posters and stickers sent by the National Voter Registration Day group at each of our drive locations,” Mary explains. This means registration volunteers can give out swag without the expense.

Promotion is key

As important as staff and materials are, though, Mary understands that a registration event needs effective promotion to be successful. To spread the word about registration drives, the Auditor’s Office relies on graphic communications and social media campaigns. 

“The trend is now toward images and, in particular, video,” Mary says. “Social media is a perfect starting point for these graphic campaigns, and we host them on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube accounts. In the past, we’ve had earned media on our graphics, which extends the life and visibility of them even more.” 

In other words, the promotion efforts of the election staff gain public notice, directing even more attention to the registration drives. 

Mary’s office has already gotten positive attention for its new National Voter Registration Day video. “Videos tend to do really well on Facebook,” she observes. 

With effective partnerships and innovative promotion, registration drives in Thurston County have had great results. Last year, there were about a dozen voter registration events in the county, bringing in more than 350 new voter registrations.

Civic engagement for the whole family

But because achievement can breed ambition, Mary and her staff are starting a new project this year: combining voter registration drives with a youth engagement program. 

What does that look like? It’s hard to miss. At an upcoming voter registration event, in addition to seeing friendly volunteers from the League of Women Voters and YWCA, you might meet eyes with a five-foot-tall cartoon ballot box. 

His name is Billy, and he helps get kids thinking about civic participation. Billy the Ballot Box, explains Voter Outreach Coordinator Valerie Walston, is “sad and skinny” when there’s low voter turnout, but he “grows big and strong as voters put their ballots in him.” 

While kids can’t vote, they’re still an important audience for civic outreach: they can begin to learn about elections while also encouraging the adults around them to be dutiful voters. 

Billy takes a selfie with a drop box on the campus of Evergreen State University. Photo courtesy of Valerie Walston.

Billy takes a selfie with a drop box on the campus of Evergreen State University. Photo courtesy of Valerie Walston.

“We use Billy,” Mary says, “to promote ‘dinner table conversations’ among families with children. It is also our hope that children who like Billy will urge their parents, aunts, and uncles to return their ballots so Billy may become big and strong.” He even has his own Facebook account.

Billy has become a fixture in local school and social media outreach, but now he’ll also be making in-person appearances at registration drives. “Our voter registration events will include Billy the Ballot Box bookmarks, coloring pages, crayons, and a five-foot cardboard cutout,” Mary reports. These kid-friendly materials mean registration tables will have something for adults and children alike. 

This year, National Voter Registration Day promises to be a big day in Thurston County. And the partnerships, promotion, and youth outreach engineered by Mary and her team are sure to make it a triumph. 

On the national level, National Voter Registration Day has achieved a lot since it launched in 2012. According to Matt Singer, it’s helped to register almost 640,000 new voters, and already more than 3,600 organizations have signed up to participate this year.

Registration resources

Are you thinking about supporting registration drives in your area? We’ve got some great resources to share with you. 

You can sign up to become an National Voter Registration Day partner at this partnership sign-up page

If you’re looking for voter registration materials, check out this helpful Voter Registration Drive Kit, one of the tools in the Election Toolkit

Finally, Mary has offered to talk with election officials who want to launch voter registration drives in their own areas. You can reach out to her at TCAuditor@co.thurston.wa.us


What solutions have you found for organizing and supporting voter registration efforts in your community? How have community partnerships helped your office run great elections and connect with the public? Tell us about them by emailing hello@techandciviclife.org.

 

Wake County, North Carolina coordinates polling places with Call-Em-All

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in August 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


According to Angel Perkins, most of the poll workers in Wake County, North Carolina have been working the elections for over 30 years. She’s gotten to witness this dedication firsthand as the Recruitment Coordinator for the Board of Elections. “I believe they keep coming back because we treat them like family,” she explains. 

In her 5 years in the position, Angel has noticed that the thing that gets the Precinct Officials the most excited is hearing which precinct they’ve been assigned to. They just can’t wait to see which friends and neighbors they’ll be working with.

30 years ago, when Wake County’s veteran poll workers were still just rookies, notifying Precinct Officials about their assignments took a lot of work: election staff had to make hundreds of phone calls or prepare hundreds of mailers. Those were the options in the old days. But now, the Board of Elections sends precinct assignments much more quickly and easily with recorded voice broadcasts. 

Using Call-Em-All, a bulk texting and voice messaging platform, they’ve discovered that these broadcasts streamline a number of other communication tasks, as well. 

A challenge of coordination

Home to Raleigh, the state capitol, Wake County is the second most populous county in the state. The area is part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, a hub of innovative research and industry that has helped to make Wake County one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States.

Raleigh, the county seat of Wake County. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins. 

Raleigh, the county seat of Wake County. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins. 

It’s also home to over 675,000 registered voters, and to serve them all, the Wake County Board of Elections administers 202 polling places on Election Day along with several early voting sites. More than 2,000 Precinct Officials are needed each election to staff the polls. So it’s no surprise that coordinating all of these people and places takes major organization and effort. 

Of course, this also means major time and money. “Before using Call-Em All,” Angel says, “it took a lot of hours to stay in constant contact with our officials. It consisted of team members making one-on-one contact by phone. And we would also do mass mailings, which would consume a lot of time.”

To make things better, Angel and her colleagues on the Operations/Staffing Team searched for a tool that would add speed and efficiency to their communication efforts. “We wanted to see what opportunities were out there that would allow us to communicate more effectively,” she explains. 

They found Call-Em-All and quickly decided that it was the fast, reliable solution they were looking for. 

Calling (or texting) ‘em all

Call-Em-All functions, basically, as a web-based control panel for sending recorded voice messages or texts to a lot of people at once. “The process for using it is simple,” Angel observes. “You create your contact list, record a voice or text message, and send it out at your preferred scheduled time.” 

The platform comes with plenty of options, too. For instance, you can send the same message to everyone -- which makes sense when, for instance, you have a reminder that’s relevant for the whole group -- or, you can send a specific message to a select group of users, which is perfect for sending poll workers those precinct assignments that they get so excited about.

Because of Call-Em-All’s versatility, Angel and her team use it for a number of different functions. Targeting their Precinct Officials, they send out their precinct assignment notifications, as well as reminders about trainings and important dates and alerts about inclement weather.

Staff outside the Board of Elections office, with Angel Perkins holding star. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins.

Staff outside the Board of Elections office, with Angel Perkins holding star. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins.

But it’s useful not only for providing information to the poll workers; the Operations/Staffing team also use it to collect information about the 202 polling locations that they use. “We send test calls to polling place facilities,” Angel describes, “to ensure modem lines in the precincts are working and to determine what lines need to be repaired.” 

This is yet another major coordination effort that, in Wake County, takes much less time than it used to.

Speed and peace of mind

Since she and her team have been using Call-Em-All, Angel has found that not only does it save time, but it also contributes some much needed consistency and reliability to the demanding -- and often hectic -- coordination stage of the election season. 

She especially likes the comprehensive delivery reports that come with every bulk message broadcast. “After your message is sent,” she explains, “Call-Em-All then sends you a detailed report that informs you of the customers that were reached and the numbers that were no longer in service.” 

In other words, unlike email, regular phone calls, or mailers, you get greater reassurance that your message reached the people you wanted to reach. 

Ultimately, it didn’t take long for Call-Em-All to become an important tool for the Wake County Board of Elections to help gear up for Election Day. Angel considers herself a fan. “I would say Call-Em-All is very user friendly and is a great way to reach thousands of your officials,” she says, adding, “Call-Em-All will always be a part of our process to effectively communicate with our volunteers and facilities.”

One of Wake County's dedicated Precinct officials. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins.

One of Wake County's dedicated Precinct officials. Photo courtesy of Angel Perkins.

Do you want to try Call-Em-All yourself? Check out our step-by-step instructions for the tool, which are part of the Election Toolkit. And if you have questions about how Angel and her Operations/Staffing Team in Wake County have used used this platform for voice broadcasts, you can reach out to her at Angel.Perkins@wakegov.com.


Do you have tips and tricks for coordinating poll workers and testing polling facilities in your area? Share your strategies with us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

The Boston Election Department manages social media with Hootsuite

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in July 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Have you checked Facebook today? Did reading a Tweet make you chuckle on the bus to work this morning? Did you post pictures from your family get-together last weekend on Instagram? For a lot of us, social media have become a part of our daily habits. That’s why social media have also become an effective way to provide civic information to the public. 

Election authorities recognize there’s value in using social media, but maintaining a social outreach program takes time, effort, and coordination. To help make using social media more manageable, the Boston Election Department recently turned to Hootsuite, a web-based social network management tool, to streamline their work. 

“It made it easier to manage our various platforms,” explains Election Commissioner Kyron Owens, “because everything is located in one central location.”

Known for sweet baked beans, Fenway Park, and getting lots of snow in the wintertime, the City of Boston is also home to some 390,000 registered voters. To serve this large voting population, Boston’s Election Department employs 32 staff members and manages over 400 polling places. This fall, the department will be hosting early voting for the first time in Boston, encouraging civic participation by extending the voting period and allowing voters to cast a ballot at a location that’s convenient for them instead of an assigned polling place.

Boston's City Hall building, home to the city's Election Department

Boston's City Hall building, home to the city's Election Department

That same desire to integrate elections into the busy lives of Boston’s citizens is what’s behind the Election Department’s social media outreach efforts. Kyron, who is the Democratic Member of the Board of Election Commissioners, says that his office turns to social networks for the full gamut of community outreach. 

“We use our social media to engage with the public, make them aware of upcoming election dates, election-related deadlines (like the voter registration deadline), any events we are hosting or collaborating on, polling location hours of operation, and we use it to advertise our initiatives and support other initiatives that are related to elections,” he explains. 

The challenge

Like any form of communications outreach, however, social media campaigns require a time and energy commitment. That’s especially true if you use more than one platform. The Boston election staff uses both Facebook and Twitter, for instance. “Managing these platforms independently is a problem,” Kyron acknowledges, “because it is quite time consuming, so we were looking for a way to centralize that aspect.” 

And as if reducing maintenance time weren’t ambitious enough, the Election Department wanted to expand their reach at the same time. “We wanted to use our social media platforms to reach more people living in Boston,” says Kyron. In other words, they were looking for a way to get a greater outcome while investing less time. 

He and his staff first heard about Hootsuite from colleagues in Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology who were already using the platform to manage the City of Boston’s social media networks. Along with Board of Election Commissioners Chairman Dion Irish, Kyron tested Hootsuite to see if it could simplify their social media maintenance, too. 

Using Hootsuite

Their initial impressions of Hootsuite were positive. “Hootsuite was very user friendly and easy to learn how to use and navigate,” Kyron recalls. 

Hootsuite acts as a central control panel for your social networks, meaning that you can monitor your social media activity and view things like mentions, new followers, likes, and Retweets all from a single dashboard. The Boston Election Department connected its Facebook and Twitter profiles to Hootsuite, allowing Kyron to view both accounts without going to two different places.
 

The Boston Election Department's Hootsuite dashboard displaying 3 Twitter streams

The Boston Election Department's Hootsuite dashboard displaying 3 Twitter streams

Even more convenient is the way that Hootsuite allows you to post messages. From a single “compose” box, you can draft a message that will be sent from all of your social media accounts at the same time. “You can post to both platforms with one click!” explains Kyron. And you can choose to send your message immediately or schedule it to be sent in advance if you prefer.

Outcomes

Boston’s election staff found that consolidating their social media procedures with Hootsuite was quite beneficial. Not only did it save time, but it successfully enabled Kyron and his colleagues to expand their reach and impact, as well. 

Part of the change was easy to quantify. Kyron said that he saw an increase in the number of followers, Retweets, and likes that the department received on its Twitter and Facebook accounts. 

Even more significant, however, was the depth of engagement that they observed. “We decided it was a success,” Kyron recalls, “based on the number of interactions we have had since we started using the technology. We had an increase in questions and conversations being held on social media. It was exciting to see people take an interest.”

Boston election staff hard at work in the Boston City Hall. Photo by Kyron Owens.

Boston election staff hard at work in the Boston City Hall. Photo by Kyron Owens.

Kyron attributes these developments to the fact that Hootsuite makes social media management easier. “I believe the cause was just the increase in our activity and then also the content of our tweets,” he says. 

This makes good sense. The fact is, when it requires less effort to post to social media, you can post more frequently, making it easier to achieve the 2-3 posts per day recommended by social media engagement experts. And having the ability to post the same message to two or more platforms from the same dashboard creates greater reliability and consistency in your outreach.

Next steps

Ultimately, Hootsuite delivered the outcomes that Kyron, Dion, and the rest of the Boston Election Department had in mind. It helped staff manage the election office’s social networks more efficiently, and at the same time, it put them in a position to achieve greater audience engagement. 

And even though it’s always good to save staff time and energy, it’s that second goal that’s especially important. Asked about what he sees as the biggest benefit of Hootsuite, Kyron replied, “the ability to use this platform to be able to expand your outreach efforts in the community that you serve.”

If you’d like to get started with using Hootsuite, our new tech tutorial on the topic is a great place to begin. In addition, Kyron has volunteered to speak with other election officials curious about his experiences using the program in Boston. You can reach out to him at kyron.owens@boston.gov.

“The results of the technology were very good and positive,” he concludes. “Anyone who is curious about this technology I would encourage them to test it out because I believe they will find it to be beneficial.”


What inventive methods has your election office developed for managing social media? We’d love to share your success story. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org and share your social media management strategies.

Sussex County, New Jersey creates videos to help train poll workers

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Effectively training poll workers is one of the most important things that a local election office can do to ensure that elections are run smoothly. But it’s also one of the most challenging. In particular, it’s one thing to train your poll workers, but it’s quite another thing to keep them trained. 

In Sussex County, New Jersey, administrator Marge Lake McCabe observed this dilemma. “We found that our poll workers do a great job at the Primary Election (right after training),” she explains, “but they struggle during the General Election.” In response to this challenge, Marge and her staff developed a smart way to cope: producing “refresher” training videos for poll workers.

Last month, the videos earned the praise of the Election Assistance Commission, which posted a link to the videos on the agency’s Facebook account, saying, “What a great idea -- well done, Sussex County!”

EAC Facebook post praising Sussex County’s training videos

EAC Facebook post praising Sussex County’s training videos

Located halfway in between Scranton, PA and New York City, Sussex County is the northernmost county in the state of New Jersey. The county is home to 99,146 registered voters and has an election staff of 4 full timers and 1 part timer, along with additional technical support staff. 

It’s a county with a distinctive topography, containing both the point of highest elevation -- in High Point State Park -- and the deepest point in the state, which is located in the historic Sterling Hills Mine in the borough of Ogdensburg. And although the world famous Jersey Devil is reputed to prowl the southern parts of New Jersey, Sussex County is home to some cryptids of its own: according to local lore, sea monsters have resided in Lake Hopatcong for centuries. 

But while Sussex County’s landscape and wildlife may be distinctive, the challenges it faces regarding poll worker education are familiar to election officials everywhere.

The problem

The fact is, poll worker training is a big job, and because there’s so much work involved, many election offices are only able to train once a year. In Sussex County, the Board of Elections limits its training classes to no more than 20 workers each, and it ends up holding over 40 classes every spring. “It’s exhausting,” Marge admits. “We realized there is no way we could train the poll workers before each election.” 

Marge Lake McCabe leads a poll worker training class. Photo by Kimberly Sidoti.

Marge Lake McCabe leads a poll worker training class. Photo by Kimberly Sidoti.

But at the same time, there seemed to be a need for additional training. In Sussex County (and in every other county, parish, and municipality), poll workers have busy, full lives, and even the most conscientious workers won’t remember every single aspect of running a polling place months after their training ended.

During the fall election, according to Marge, workers had difficulty remembering procedural issues -- things like filling out paperwork properly, issuing provisional ballots, and processing ballots on the electronic voting machines.

The Sussex County Board believed that, to fix the problem, workers just needed to be shown how to do these things again. Video seemed like the right approach for two reasons. For one thing, it would provide a visual illustration of what to do. “We thought that seeing what had to be done on video would be the most effective method to remind them of their responsibilities,” Marge says. In addition, a second benefit of video is flexibility: instead of coming to a training location on a set schedule, poll workers could watch the videos at their own convenience.

Producing the videos 

The first stage in creating the videos was planning their content. To make the task manageable for both the people producing the videos and the people watching them, Marge wanted to limit their number to 10. Led by deputy administrator Ellen Griffiths, the staff made a list of the topics that they felt would be most important to cover, and then they narrowed them down. “There are so many topics that it was difficult to narrow it down to 10,” Marge acknowledges, “but we thought that we could add more in the future.”

Judy Lynch, Dorleen Donahue, and Ellen Griffiths compose scripts for the videos. Photo by Marge McCabe.

Judy Lynch, Dorleen Donahue, and Ellen Griffiths compose scripts for the videos. Photo by Marge McCabe.

Once topics were selected, the Board created scripts for the videos. They arranged to film the videos in their warehouse in an area that they set up to look like a polling place, and for actors, they used a staff member as well as poll workers who graciously volunteered to participate in exchange for a shot at election-video stardom. 

Then, production began. Thor Carlson, the Sussex County website manager, handled the technical aspects of making the videos. He was responsible for all of the video and audio capturing and subsequent editing. 

For filming, Thor used a Nikon D3200 camera (less than $400.00 on Amazon) mounted on a tripod. The voiceovers were recorded with a USB headset with an attached microphone, and audio recording and editing was done with Audacity, an open-source audio platform. To edit the videos, Thor used Adobe Premiere Pro CC, which allowed him to edit the raw video, add voiceovers, and insert additional visual close-ups and animation where it would enhance the videos.

Filming and editing took some time, but not as much as you might think. “Video recording took place over a four or five day period,” Thor says, while “post-production editing took about three weeks.” 

Marge admits she was initially unsure about the technical requirements for making videos, but in the end, they weren’t prohibitive. “When we first thought of the video idea,” she says, “we were prepared to reach out to the local college and technical school for assistance. As it turns out, our webmaster was highly qualified and very willing, and even learned some new video techniques during the process.”

Web manager Thor Carlson flanked by Ellen and Marge. Photo by John Williams.

Web manager Thor Carlson flanked by Ellen and Marge. Photo by John Williams.

Of course, while Thor proved a highly capable video producer for the Sussex Board, Marge’s idea about working with a college or trade school is a good one for election offices who may not have a Thor of their own. 

Once the videos were edited, Marge and Ellen signed off on them one at a time, and they began showing them to friends, colleagues, and poll workers to get reactions.

Outcomes

The Sussex Board is going to have to wait a few months to see the direct impact of the videos on the General Election, but in the meantime, responses have been overwhelmingly positive. 

“They came out so well,” Marge explains, “that we are using them during poll worker training in April.” In other words, although the videos were originally intended as “refreshers,” the videos have been shown to have great potential during regular training, too. 

Screenshot from a Sussex County training video demonstrating how poll workers should unpack voting equipment

Screenshot from a Sussex County training video demonstrating how poll workers should unpack voting equipment

In particular, the Board has been pleased with the way that video can help to visually illustrate important processes. For instance, even with a small training class, it’s hard to provide a close-up view of a machine or an affidavit to a whole group of people. But video makes that easy. 

Ever since trainer Judy Smith began incorporating the videos in the training process, Marge says, the staff has discovered that “poll workers are picking up information they would usually miss from our standard teaching format.”

Judy is screening the videos during in-person training, and in addition, Thor created a YouTube channel to host them and make them public. This makes it possible for poll workers to access them at their own convenience -- whenever and wherever they want. “And since the videos are now on YouTube,” Marge jokes, “even if they’re on the beach in August they can go online and see how to process a provisional ballot.” 

It’s not yet clear whether or not the videos are going to become popular viewing on the Jersey Shore this summer, but they’ve already made a positive impact.

For one thing, the videos have earned high praise from the Election Assistance Commission. Calling them “pretty excellent,” the EAC posted the videos on the agency’s Facebook page as part of its #beready16 campaign.

What’s more, back in Sussex County, Marge says that producing the videos has helped her and her staff to reform and streamline the work of their office. "I think the greatest thing we learned through this endeavor," she says, "is how to simplify our own processes. When you look at every little thing you do, and hone it down to the smallest detail, you get to clean up your procedures."

In short, the videos have already proven valuable for everyone involved in administering elections in Sussex County. Poll workers are benefiting from the enhanced training. Thor cultivated new video production skills. And Marge, Ellen, and the rest of her staff were able to improve not only their training, but their other functions, as well.

Next steps

Video production might seem intimidating, but the experience of Sussex County shows it might be less complicated than you think. “It was not as hard as we anticipated,” Marge admits. 

Marge and Thor have kindly offered to speak with anyone who has questions about either the administrative or technical aspects of producing poll worker training videos. You can reach out to Marge at mmccabe@sussex.nj.us or Thor at tcarlson@sussex.nj.us.

Also, if training and managing poll workers in 2016 is something that’s on your mind, be sure to check out this upcoming webisode hosted by the Election Assistance Commission, to be published in April. In the webisode you’ll hear about other innovations for dealing with the challenges of poll worker training.


What good ideas has your election office used for providing training “refreshers” to your poll workers? If you’ve developed good strategies of your own, we’d love to hear about them! Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org and describe your training techniques.

Weber County, Utah uses Google Voice to manage poll worker communication

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in February 2016. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


The morning of Election Day is a busy time for every election administrator. As poll workers arrive at the polling place, set up equipment, and prepare to open the polls, questions inevitably surface. Coordinating poll workers and responding to their needs ends up pulling administrators in many different directions all at once. 

In response to this common issue, Ryan Cowley, Elections Director for Weber County, Utah, searched for a solution, and he found it in Google Voice, a tool that provides his office with an efficient, streamlined way to communicate with poll workers throughout the county. 

In just a short time, Google Voice has already made Election Day less of a headache in Weber County. “Poll workers loved that we were able to respond in a timely manner,” explains County Clerk/Auditor Ricky Hatch. “And we never got overwhelmed by voice mails and phone calls.”

Located about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, Weber County provides a snapshot of the entire state of Utah. It borders the Great Salt Lake to the West. Its county seat, Ogden, is one of Utah’s biggest cities and has a rich history as a bustling railroad town. 

Downtown Ogden, Utah at night. Photo by Kevin Dilley.

Downtown Ogden, Utah at night. Photo by Kevin Dilley.

The backdrop for Ogden is the beautiful Wasatch mountain range, and the eastern part of Weber County is home to the rugged Upper Valley region, home to few residents and fewer roads. The county population stands at about 240,000 people, of whom 114,187 are registered voters. In the last presidential election in 2012, Weber County had 63 polling places, but that number has dropped sharply as the state transitions to vote by mail. This year, there will be just 9 polling places, along with 11 drop-off locations.

The challenge

Coordinating poll workers is a challenge that’s been around for a while, and Weber County election staff tried several different approaches to dealing with it over the years. The portability of cell phones was a big step forward compared to the older land lines, but even using cell phones had its problems.

As he traveled around from polling place to polling place on Election Day with his cell phone, Ryan got bombarded with calls while his poll workers felt neglected.

"I would get caught in an endless cycle of missed call, voice mail, return call, more missed calls, more voice mails, more calls to return, and could never get caught up."

Eventually the office implemented texting as a way to communicate with poll workers, and that method worked well apart from two big drawbacks. First, Ryan wasn’t able to deal with text messages while driving. And second, all of the messages from poll workers ended up only on his phone, where no other election staff could access them or respond.

Ryan and his fellow election administrators knew that they needed a more systematic approach to texting. “We wanted to find some text management software, Ryan explains, “that would allow us to send and receive text messages through a web portal where more than one person could see it.” The solution was Google Voice.

Using Google Voice

Google Voice is sort of a cross between texting on your phone and using Gmail, which is Google’s free email provider and one of the most popular email platforms in the world. In the weeks prior to an election, Weber County election staff set up a Google Voice account, also choosing a telephone number for the election office that was local and would be easy to remember.

At poll worker training, each worker was asked to text the number and provide their name, job position, and location. Administrators then added each number as a contact in Google Voice, so that it would be immediately clear who was texting and from where.

Smartphone screenshot showing an example of texting poll workers using Google Voice

Smartphone screenshot showing an example of texting poll workers using Google Voice

Once the Voice account it set up and the poll workers have been added as contacts, using the platform is extremely quick and easy. On Election Day, poll workers text the office, and all of their messages go into a central inbox -- much like a normal email inbox -- where all of the election administrators can see it and respond to it.

Because of this inbox feature, dealing with text messages is as easy as managing email. Plus, responding to text messages using a regular computer keyboard makes the process much faster and easier than typing with thumbs on a phone. Once each poll worker question is answered, the administrator archives the message thread so that the inbox contains only new messages.

Outcomes

Google Voice proved a great solution for dealing with poll worker questions. Instead of feeling neglected, election workers said they “absolutely loved the texting option,” and they told Ryan and Ricky “the communication from the county is great!”

In addition to helping with questions, they've found that Google Voice is a great tool for providing alerts and reminders to all poll workers at once. “Think of how long it takes to have a two-minute phone call with every one of your polling places!” Ryan says. Sending a quick text message to everyone all at once is so much simpler and easier.

"Our poll workers raved about it and our staff liked that you could be talking to 3 or 4 poll workers at the same time without being tied up on the phone."

The local election staff also enjoys the hotline feature of Google Voice. This allows poll workers who have an especially urgent problem to call in, and the account is set up so that all the phones in the office ring simultaneously. If Ryan or another administrator leave the office, they can even make it so that the hotline is directed to their cell phone, as well. The hotline provides another layer of responsiveness.

Ryan Cowley and Ricky Hatch "campaigning." Photo courtesy of Ricky Hatch.

Ryan Cowley and Ricky Hatch "campaigning." Photo courtesy of Ricky Hatch.

As a simple and free approach to one of the most common issues of election administration, Google Voice could be an attractive communication tool for any election office. If you have questions about how to use it, you can email Ricky Hatch at rhatch@co.weber.ut.us or Ryan Cowley at rcowley@co.weber.ut.us


Does your office have its own smart way to deal with poll worker communication? If so, let us know! Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org and tell us your story. 

Hardin County, Iowa uses Google Sheets to report results on election night

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in November 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Located in central Iowa -- halfway between the cities of Waterloo and Fort Dodge -- lies Hardin County. One of the Tuskegee Airmen hailed from here, and today the area serves as a major source of ethanol. More famously, much of the 1996 tornado blockbuster Twister was filmed in Hardin County, whose flat, Midwestern landscape provided the perfect backdrop for the cyclone drama. 

Although it might not exactly be the stuff of Hollywood cinema, the Hardin County Auditor’s office has a story of its own to tell. Jessica Lara -- who has served as County Auditor since September 2013 and was Deputy Auditor for 4 years prior to that -- is proud of the solution that her office has developed for reporting election night results. 

The Hardin County courthouse with local citizens relaxing in the lawn. Photo by Micah Cutler.

The Hardin County courthouse with local citizens relaxing in the lawn. Photo by Micah Cutler.

Hardin County is a fairly small election jurisdiction, with 11,840 registered voters and a range of between 9 and 14 precincts, depending on the type of election. The Auditor’s office has 2 full-time election staff members and 3 backup workers who assist with things like absentee voting and phone inquiries. 

But whether a jurisdiction is large or small, pushing election night results out to the public after the polls close is stressful work. Voters want to see the impact of their participation. Candidates are eager to see their prospects for victory. And local media representatives want facts for the election stories that they’re working on. Because it’s an important and demanding task, election officials want to make sure they get it done quickly and get it done right. 

And a few years ago, administrators in Hardin County decided that the old way of reporting election night results just wasn’t cutting it anymore. 

"We find that in the information age,” Jessica explains, “voters are wanting results as soon as polls close."

"We needed a method to report results that would be accurate yet timely. [In the past] [o]ur tabulating software would require all precincts [to] deliver the memory cards to our central location before results could be tallied and printed on reports. We needed something faster that did not involve the delay in hand delivering the results cards. This is how we developed our Election Results spreadsheet.”

Jessica Lara shows off her office's spreadsheet. Photo by Micah Cutler.

Jessica Lara shows off her office's spreadsheet. Photo by Micah Cutler.

How it works

The spreadsheet that Hardin County produced is built on familiar and free platforms: Google Docs and Google Sheets, both of which are part of Google’s web-based office suite. Jessica and her staff have used the spreadsheet to report election night results for about 6 years, and they love the fact that the platform is free, fast, and easy to use. 

The steps are simple, as Jessica explains: “On election night, once the polls close, the tabulators print paper results at each of our polling locations. The chairperson at each location then phones in the results to the Auditor’s office (Commissioner of Elections) and the information for each race including over/under and total number of voters. We use these numbers to manually proof that the numbers were heard and written down accurately. One employee then enters the results into the spreadsheet. Google Docs is continually updated every two to four minutes, so the results are nearly immediate in release.”

In addition to speeding things up, using Google Sheets allows Hardin County to publish election night results with “a more polished look,” explains IT/GIS Director Micah Cutler, who developed the spreadsheet format. Micah says that election staff experimented with various color schemes for the spreadsheet -- including a patriotic red, white, and blue look -- but ultimately settled on a more generic theme that was easy to read and that avoided any partisan colors. 

The election results spreadsheet in action

The election results spreadsheet in action

It’s not foolproof

Although using Google Sheets has made results reporting much faster and easier than before in Hardin County, Jessica says that great care still needs to be taken in the reporting process. 

For instance, she stresses that human error still has the potential to foul things up. She shared an experience when a mistake was made due to data entry. A candidate for office received 101 votes, but an election staff member just entered “1” into the spreadsheet. This meant that, for a short time, the wrong candidate appeared to be the winner of the race. The problem was spotted and corrected within 10 minutes, Jessica explains, but still, a few media outlets had already picked up the wrong information. Moving forward, the elections staff resolved to have just one dedicated staff member do data entry, thus reducing the chance of errors or accidental deletions. Results figures are now triple checked for accuracy. 

They also needed to figure out how to make their spreadsheets accommodate write-in candidates. To deal with this problem, they now make sure their spreadsheets have blank columns that can be used for write-ins, and when any write-in candidate earns at least 5% of the vote, the candidate’s name is added to the spreadsheet. Candidates are added and dropped as results hover near that 5% threshold. 

For the most part, working with Google Sheets requires the same kind of caution and attention to detail that results reporting normally demands. And as always, Jessica emphasizes, it’s important to include a “unofficial results” disclaimer until canvassing can be done to verify results officially.

Great results

Jessica and Micah are understandably proud of the platform they developed. Whereas some of the surrounding counties in Iowa can take as much as 2 hours to provide election results, Jessica says, Hardin County has become known for its quick reporting. 

"Two years ago,” she says with pride, “we were able to report results to the public in less than 11 minutes after the polls closed. We had reporters from radio stations that called to thank us for being so prompt!"

According to Jessica, this isn’t the first time that Hardin County has been recognized for running elections with innovation and boldness. Local lore remembers the election of 1863, when the first election in Jackson Township was held in an old saw mill, and every voter who cast a ballot was entitled to a drink from a keg of genuine whisky. The booze may no longer flow at the polls, but local elections continue to draw notice. 

Because it’s free, fast, and simple, the Google office suite has the potential to be a great solution to the headache that election night results can often cause. If you have questions about how using the Google spreadsheet has impacted the work of the Auditor’s office in Hardin County, email Jessica at jlara@hardincountyia.gov. With questions about the design and technical specifications of the spreadsheet, get in touch with Micah at mcutler@hardincountyia.gov.


Do you have any special method for publishing election night results that you’d like to tell us about? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org and share your experience. 

 

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners uses partnerships to recruit young poll workers

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in October 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Chicago is a city of big shoulders, deep-dish pizza, and buildings that scrape the sky. Chicago has 1.42 million registered voters and 2,069 Election Day polling places. To staff a general election, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners hires over 14,000 poll workers. 

Student poll workers pose with a touchscreen voting machine. Photo by Paulina Mysliwiec.

Student poll workers pose with a touchscreen voting machine. Photo by Paulina Mysliwiec.

In this month’s newsletter we highlight the Board’s community partnerships that benefit local students, the election office, and Chicago voters. Learn about how they recruit student poll workers who can troubleshoot technology and offer language assistance on Election Day.

The Chairman's greatest source of pride

"Chicago leads the nation with the number [about 4,000] of young people staffing our polling places every single election. No other jurisdiction even comes close," said Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon D. Neal. "The benefits far outweigh any costs."

"Overall, our student judges have demonstrated technological savvy. That means fewer calls for technicians on Election Day. That means faster results reporting on Election Night," Neal said. "In most elections, we have results reported from more than 90% of our precincts before the 10:00 news."
 
"There's another benefit: being fully staffed. Many jurisdictions scramble to recruit and train poll workers," Neal said. "Election officials across the country ask us how we do it. It's simple. We partner with Mikva Challenge and with all of the history and social studies teachers in our high schools."

"Most important is what this means for the long-term health of the franchise. There is no better lesson in democracy than managing a polling place," Neal said.

"I often say we're giving new meaning to 'early and often.' We engage our students early -- and expect they'll be back often in their lives. This program is my greatest source of pride."

Technology and elections

In many states, poll workers directly impact the voting experience. A poll worker can decide if a voter’s ID is valid, if a person must vote provisionally, and if they receive the correct ballot style.

From online voter registration to electronic poll books, technology plays an important role on Election Day. Subsequently, the need for technical abilities among poll workers is increasing. Not only are poll worker training programs becoming more rigorous, including testing and evaluations, but recruitment efforts are also evolving. In the interest of getting more tech savvy poll workers, both the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and the Election Assistance Commission suggest local election offices recruit students to work on Election Day.

In addition to tech skills, students bring a fresh outlook to the voting process and they may also have communication skills that are valuable to voters.

Speaking the same language

College and high school students who have immigrant family members often speak languages other than English at home, making them prime candidates for bilingual and multilingual election judge positions. They can serve as a trusted liaison between limited English proficiency communities and the election office. 

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires election offices that qualify to provide language assistance to minority groups. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners’ website is translated into five languages -- English, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, and Hindi -- and the office employs full-time community coordinators who are responsible for language translation and community outreach. 

One way to increase a voter’s confidence in the voting process on Election Day -- especially a new voter -- is for poll workers to share voting information in a language that is familiar to the voter. In addition to the five languages found on the Board’s website, the election office also recruits bilingual election judges who speak Gujarati and Urdu. And in Chicago voting locations where there may not be a judge who offers language assistance, the election signage, touch-screen ballots and audio ballots are offered in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Hindi.

Civics is a lifestyle

Recruiting student poll workers is challenging. Young people are busy with academics, sports, work, romance, family, and more. But by partnering with local non-profit organizations and teachers, election offices can build strategic relationships in the community and target civically engaged students.

An election staff member signs up a future student poll worker at a recruitment event. Photo by Paulina Mysliwiec.

An election staff member signs up a future student poll worker at a recruitment event. Photo by Paulina Mysliwiec.

For eight years, the Chicago Election Board has led the nation in assigning high school students to serve as election judges. Through a partnership with Mikva Challenge, more than 1,700 students have worked in each citywide election. Mikva Challenge is a nonpartisan program based in Chicago that promotes youth participation in civics and politics.

Youth involvement in the election process has even gained media attention. You can hear about the experience of one student election judge whose story was broadcast on WBEZ.

Last fall the Board partnered with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLC) to recruit college and university students to serve as election judges. A new CLC study, featured in electionLine, found that the Chicago Election Board now also leads the way in the use of college poll workers. 

As voting locations integrate more and more technology and our nation’s population grows increasingly diverse, student poll worker programs will continue to strengthen the pool of poll workers. Even better, the programs serve as a catalyst for civic participation that can last a lifetime. 

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is able to recruit and retain student election judges because of its community outreach and partnerships with local stakeholders.


What kinds of programs does your election office have to recruit young poll workers? How do you keep your election workers prepared for changes in technology and legislation? Let us know at hello@techandciviclife.org. We want to feature your story!

Wise County, Virginia recruits poll workers with Facebook posts

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in September 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Wise County is tucked in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville, TN. It is the home of the official outdoor drama of the Commonwealth, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which tells the story of two feuding families coping with social and economic change in a Virginia mountain community.

Wise County’s registered voter population fluctuates between 23,000 and 24,000. The Office of General Register is staffed by one full-time Registrar, one full-time Assistant Registrar, and one part-time Assistant Registrar. Wise County has 12 precincts and 12 Election Day polling places, along with a Central Absentee Precinct (CAP) for all absentee voters.

Meeting people where they are

Allison J. Robbins is the Registrar for Wise County, and recently she’s been using Facebook as a tool to recruit poll workers. 

Allison J. Robbins sitting at her office desk. Photo courtesy of Allison J. Robbins.

Allison J. Robbins sitting at her office desk. Photo courtesy of Allison J. Robbins.

“I believe there are civic-minded citizens in our communities who are interested in serving as poll workers. Using Facebook to recruit poll workers gives election officials another tool to reach out to those citizens.”

Facebook is one of the most popular websites in the world. As of March 2015, it had over 1 billion active users. This month’s spotlight story, along with our Facebook Boosted Post step-by-step tech tutorial, outlines why and how an election office might boost posts on Facebook. 

Boosting Facebook posts

As far as online ad campaigns go, it was a simple process in Wise County. Allison created a post on Facebook and included the link to their poll worker sign-up form in the text of the post. She then boosted the post and narrowed the target audience to Wise County. 

Screenshot of Facebook ad recruiting poll workers using the iconic "I want you" Uncle Sam imagery

Screenshot of Facebook ad recruiting poll workers using the iconic "I want you" Uncle Sam imagery

The numbers

  • $40 budget
  • 2-week duration
  • Over 10,000 people reached
  • 27 online and 6 offline responses

Once the post was live, people showed interest by sharing the post, and 27 people submitted responses through the online form. After Allison and her staff received the responses, they contacted the interested citizens using the email address or phone number they provided. Staff verified their eligibility, gave them their training date, and assigned them to a precinct on Election Day. Thanks to the boosted Facebook post, Wise County was able to fill all of their poll worker vacancies in November 2014.

Next steps

Because of its ease of use, affordability, and positive results, boosting Facebook posts has significant potential for local election offices. Since last year’s ad campaign was so successful, Wise County plans to promote poll worker recruitment and other election events on Facebook throughout the year.

If you want to learn more about Wise County Registrar’s use of Facebook or their poll worker recruitment efforts, contact Allison J. Robbins at registrar@wisecounty.gov.

And you can visit the Center for Technology and Civic Life website to see more Facebook tech tutorials, including how to get started on Facebook and an example of a Facebook comment policy.


What do you think is the most effective way to recruit election workers in your jurisdiction? Has your election office developed new tools or programs that you’re really proud of? We want to hear from you. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

Guilford County, North Carolina builds a communication portal with Google apps

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in May 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Guilford County is the third most populous county in North Carolina. The Guilford County Board of Elections has a team of 16 employees who serve nearly 335,000 voters. On Election Day, they manage 165 polling places and between 600 and 1,000 poll workers. During the early voting period, they staff between 7 and 22 early voting sites with up to 420 seasonal election workers. Guilford County is the only county in North Carolina with two election offices -- one in Greensboro (the county seat) and one in High Point.

Beyond the election office busy signal

During the 2011 early voting period, Deputy Director Tim Tsujii noticed their office needed a way to stay in touch with election workers when their office phone lines were busy. Tim used instant messaging apps with his friends and family, so he decided to build an online communication portal for election workers using the same technology. 

Instant communication with election workers

The Guilford County election office designed an online system that can:

  • Communicate with election workers when the phone lines are tied up.
  • Track wait times at voting locations.
  • Collect data for auditing and evaluation.
  • Provide additional resources to improve the elections process.

Tim and his team leveraged free Google tools, including Gmail, Google Documents, and Google Sites, to create an online system to communicate with their election workers. The apps are web-based, which means election workers can access them on electronic poll book laptops when connected to the Internet. 

Introducing Guilford Elections Application Resources (GEAR) 

GEAR is an online portal for managing communication between the Guilford County election office, roving tech staff, and workers who are stationed at voting locations throughout the county.

Screenshot of GEAR homepage menu showing several iconic menu items

Screenshot of GEAR homepage menu showing several iconic menu items

Send and receive election data

The Guilford County election office collects real-time election data directly from the early voting locations so they are able to quickly identify needs and areas of improvement for election workers. To inform their allocation of election personnel and inventory, they track specific polling place activities, including number of curbside voters, provisional ballots issued, and supplies. The chat module makes troubleshooting more efficient at the early voting locations because election staff can immediately walk the election workers through solutions. 

"By reviewing the chat history from GChat, Guilford County election staff can identify frequently asked questions and requests, which they use to improve their election worker training curriculum."

Benefits of using Google apps for GEAR

  • Free
  • Web-based: use it anywhere at any time with an Internet connection.
  • Secure: password protected login and permission required to share documents.
  • Cloud-based: ample data storage.
  • Compatible with Microsoft Office: easily export data to Microsoft products like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.
  • User-friendly: no coding skills required to create sites or forms. Google offers free templates and app scripts that can automate certain tasks, such as a mileage calculator for rovers.

Implementing GEAR is not without challenges. Tim and his team must consider that some election workers have limited knowledge of the Google apps. Workers with less experience on computers may pass responsibilities to another person, complicating the evaluation and accountability process. There is also the possibility of losing Internet connectivity and the Google server becoming unresponsive, which interrupts communication.

However, after launching GEAR, the Guilford County Board of Elections observed a reduction in the number of calls to their roving technical support staff. They have also seen an increase in election worker confidence and productivity because workers have a “safety net” that keeps them in constant contact with the election office. 

"GEAR offers Guilford County a way to communicate instantly with election workers, collect data from voting locations, and provide immediate access to resources and important forms when election workers need them."

Interested in learning more? Take GEAR for a test drive by visiting the GEAR early vote demo website


How is your election office using technology to improve elections in your jurisdiction? ELECTricity wants to feature your story. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

Contra Costa County, California explores digital strategies for community engagement

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in April 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Contra Costa County is in the northern part of the East Bay of California, near San Francisco. The Contra Costa County Elections Division serves over 524,000 voters and has 32 full-time employees. Its name in Spanish means “opposite coast.” Its county seat, Martinez, is the birthplace of the martini. (There is some dispute about this fact -- but not among the locals.)
 

Staff members of Contra Costa's Civic Engagement and Education program register voters at a local farmers' market. Photo courtesy of Paul Burgarino and Contra Costa County.

Staff members of Contra Costa's Civic Engagement and Education program register voters at a local farmers' market. Photo courtesy of Paul Burgarino and Contra Costa County.

County Clerk-Registrar-Recorder Joe Canciamilla took office in April 2013. He wanted to create an outreach program that increased access to information, engaged the community, and encouraged young people to see the value and excitement in civic life. The weekend before election staff Lori Haywood and Paul Burgarino started to work on the Civic Engagement and Education Program in August 2014, an earthquake happened. Over time, they have realized that it’s the daily, tiny movements under the surface that can create a seismic impact on civic participation.

Being social

One of their first goals was to create a strong social media presence. They created a new Facebook page, Engage Contra Costa, along with Twitter and Instagram accounts. Facebook has been their most successful social media platform. They have 432 fans with a goal of reaching 1000 fans. They engage their community on Facebook by:

  • Posting original memes, or fun graphics, that include important civic information
  • Sharing instructional videos about the voting process
  • Posting pictures that highlight new programs, such as ballot drop-off boxes at city halls
  • Distributing content from national organizations like Rock the Vote
Facebook meme tying local elections to baseball season created by Contra Costa election staff. Photo courtesy of Paul Burgarino and Contra Costa County.

Facebook meme tying local elections to baseball season created by Contra Costa election staff. Photo courtesy of Paul Burgarino and Contra Costa County.

“We see social media as a way to highlight events and new programs in the community, and we really think outside the box in how we present information,” Paul says. “When there’s something like the 'color of the dress' picture that floods social media, we think about how we might take that opportunity to get people civically involved."

Quick tip: Is your election office interested in setting up a Facebook Page to engage your community? Learn more about getting started on Facebook with ELECTricity's Facebook tech tutorial. And if this is your first social media account, we recommend that you also create a social media policy to help ensure that your social media accounts are professionally maintained and long lasting. Check out the Portage County Board of Elections's social media policy as an example.

New ways to engage the community

The Contra Costa election staff is also using technology to increase civic engagement by creating instructional videos. For example, the county is administering two elections simultaneously next month, and some voters within a district will receive two separate ballots in the mail. Election staff are asking voters to return mail ballots according to a color-matching system. Just this month, they created a short video and shared it on Facebook. The video, in less than one minute, helps Contra Costa voters understand the special color-matching process.

An instructional video created by Contra Costa election staff that shows a family learning about different ballots. Video courtesy of Paul Burgarino and Contra Costa County.

Quick tip: Images tell stories, capture people’s attention, and fuel engagement. By sharing a picture on Facebook, rather than just text, your post might appear higher in someone’s Facebook feed. However, this may be changing. In addition to photos, now videos are becoming increasingly popular on Facebook. According to the Facebook blog, in one year the number of video posts per Facebook user has increased by 94% in the U.S. If your office is active on Facebook, consider integrating more videos into your posts to expand the reach of your civic content.

For more information about the Contra Costa Civic Engagement and Education Program, contact Paul Burgarino via email at Paul.Burgarino@vote.cccounty.us


How are you using technology to improve elections in your jurisdiction? Let us know about it by emailing us at hello@techandciviclife.org. We want to feature your work!

Easton, Massachusetts streamlines its work by using Excel

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


The Town of Easton is located 30 minutes from Boston and 45 minutes from Cape Cod. Easton is the proud hometown of Jim Craig, the goaltender who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to an Olympic gold medal, also known as the Miracle on Ice.

Easton has over 15,500 registered voters who are served by three full-time staff, 30 poll workers, and three volunteer registrars. On Election Day, residents in the town’s six precincts all vote in just one location at the high school gymnasium.

Easton's consolidated polling place at high school gymnasium. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Gillis.

Easton's consolidated polling place at high school gymnasium. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Gillis.

Jeremy Gillis is the Easton Town Clerk. In addition to enjoying hockey, he’s a huge fan of Excel. Jeremy and his team use spreadsheets to help manage the entire election process in Easton. He creates one Excel file for each election and then adds individual tabs for detailed information. The team collects data on everything election related, including: 

  • Candidate information
  • Voting lists
  • Absentee voters
  • Election costs
  • Hourly voter turnout
  • Poll worker payroll
  • Election results

Track election trends with Excel

The Town Clerk's office also records election expenses in Excel in order to track the exact costs of an election. Using their election budget spreadsheets, they are later able to justify funding requests at the Easton town meetings.

View a quick example on using the SUM function to total a poll worker budget.

By identifying historical election data trends in a customizable format like Excel, Jeremy can make informed decisions about resources for an upcoming election.

“Excel can take some of the gut feelings that all election administrators experience and turn them into facts,” Jeremy explains.

Excel streamlines election data

Meaningful election data can add value to the local budget process, boost community engagement, and contribute to historical archives. By publishing data in a spreadsheet that people and machines can find, sort, and share, the public can better understand and engage in the election process.

In one Election Night spreadsheet, Jeremy uses 258 Excel formulas to calculate results for three ballots, 22 races, 4 questions, and 38 candidates!

A printed Excel spreadsheet with sample ballots. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Gillis.

A printed Excel spreadsheet with sample ballots. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Gillis.

For information about election data in the Town of Easton, contact Jeremy at jgillis@easton.ma.us. You can also follow Jeremy on Twitter

Interested in learning more about Excel? Check out our quick lessons on Excel -- including AVERAGE, CONCATENATE, and PivotTables -- in ELECTricity’s Tech Tutorials.


How are you making elections better in your community? We want to feature your jurisdiction. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org

 

Pierce County, Washington makes voting convenient with ballot drop boxes

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in February 2015. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Pierce County, Washington is the second largest county in the state. Pierce County covers 1,679 square miles, from sea level to the top of Mt. Rainier at 14,411 ft. The county’s residents live on islands, in cities, and at the base of the mountain. The Pierce County seat is Tacoma.

A ballot drop box located at a fire station in Orting, Washington. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

A ballot drop box located at a fire station in Orting, Washington. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

The Pierce County Auditor’s office serves the county’s over 440,000 registered voters. The office has 13 full-time staff and approximately 250 part-time election workers who perform ballot pick-up, ballot processing, and voting center duties. They have 29, going on 30, drop boxes located throughout the county. In 2014 the Pierce County Auditor was recognized with the Election Center Guardian Award for their team’s successful ballot drop box program.

Pierce County ballot drop box best practices:

  • Design a large, fireproof box
  • Optimize voter convenience by placing boxes in common public spaces
  • Raise awareness via contests and voter education, both online and offline
  • Develop a trackable ballot pickup protocol

No stamp required

Since becoming an all vote-by-mail jurisdiction in 2011, Pierce County has seen a significant increase in the number of ballots deposited at their ballot drop boxes. In the 2014 General Election, 118,971 of the 220,827 Pierce County ballots cast, or 53.9%, were returned at a drop box. 

A voter inserts a ballot into one of Pierce County's drop off boxes. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

A voter inserts a ballot into one of Pierce County's drop off boxes. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

Why are ballot drop boxes so popular? Voters like convenient choices. Pierce County voters can mail their ballot, drop their ballot at a drop box, or vote in-person at one of four Voting Centers. Voters enjoy the advantages of drop boxes, which are open 24/7 and do not require a stamp. 

More than a big metal can

Discovering the best way to manage the boxes has been a learning experience. Through their experience Pierce County learned that small drop boxes, which can fill up quickly, are problematic. By investing in larger boxes, the program can continue to grow in popularity. To prevent a fire from destroying ballots inside the drop box, each box is outfitted with fire suppression canisters. Before installation, the Auditor asked a local fire department to test ballot drop boxes, with and without the fire suppression, using a variety of combustion and fire starters. The boxes were found to be very fire resistant, due to tight, heavy construction that limited air circulation. 

Pierce County's boxes feature bold quotations about democracy and voting. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

Pierce County's boxes feature bold quotations about democracy and voting. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

Pierce County uses graphic decals featuring quotes that inspire civic participation. They held contests at the high school closest to each drop box, and students were invited to submit their ideas. The winners saw their quote revealed, and local papers published news releases to honor the winners and to raise awareness of the drop box locations. 

Ballot drop box design features:

  • Separate walk-up and drive-up deposit points (to keep pedestrian voters out of traffic)
  • Deposit slot height suited for cars and wheelchairs. One-handed operation, for voters of all abilities
  • Slot size accommodates large envelopes, but is slim-enough to prevent tampering
  • Slanted interior design forces ballots towards doors and reduces strain for ballot drop box teams
  • Weighing 600 lbs., boxes are constructed from 1/4" and 3/8” folded steel
  • Lock body is never exposed outside the box (to protect against tampering)
  • No grip points for forced entry
  • Flush locks and doors resist impact and tampering
  • Door opens out at an angle so as to fall open if not locked, preventing unsecured boxes
  • Surface mount or cast mount legs allow custom fit to the site location
  • Drip edge protects top of door seam (to prevent ballots from getting wet when the door is opened)
  • Large side plates protect openings from rain during high winds

Location, location, location

Public facilities are ideal for ballot drop box locations. They are familiar to the public, have security and lighting, are ADA accessible, and tend to be cooperative partners. Pierce County’s sites include major transit centers, police stations, park-and-ride lots, city halls, libraries, and fire stations.

Pierce County staff use a Geographic Information System (GIS) to determine locations. They enter all current and prospective locations into the GIS and apply a “Location Allocation” geoprocessing tool. Using a road network and geocoded voter residential addresses, the tool determines the best location to serve the most voters, with a maximum voter drive time of ten minutes.

Educating the community about the location of the drop boxes is critical to ensuring their convenience. The Pierce County Auditor uses their website, local voters' pamphlet, and ballot inserts to inform voters of box locations. Their web page displays a Google map of box locations, with all map features enabled. Voters can view photographs of each box, get turn-by-turn driving directions, and see deadline reminders.

Ballot chain of custody

Pierce County drop boxes are open 19 days before each election and they remain open 24 hours a day until 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Staff keeps a close tally of ballots deposited to track volumes and determine the frequency of pick-ups. Each box can hold 1,500 ballots, so it isn't necessary to empty each box every day. On the other hand, staff knows which boxes might need to be emptied twice a day. This reveals trends that help the team plan ballot processing workloads.

All drop box activity is performed by election workers, in teams of two. Each drop box team is assigned a route that includes five to seven boxes, with no route over four hours in duration. Each drop box team is sent with a set of supplies including seals, oaths, GPS Spot Trackers, transport tubs, contact numbers, and a checklist.

Pierce county election staff members open drop boxes as a team. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

Pierce county election staff members open drop boxes as a team. Photo by Whitney Rhodes.

GPS Spot Trackers monitor the pickup and return of ballots at all times throughout the 18-day election period. Using satellite antennas and a global network, the unit movements are displayed on the supervisor’s computer screen. Pierce County knows at all times where the ballot drop box team is located and their direction of travel. This ensures the assigned route is followed without deviation and that the team is on time, helping document ballot chain of custody. Spot Trackers also help ensure the safety of election workers traveling to remote locations at night.

Ballot drop box costs:

  • Fabricated ballot drop box is approximately $5,000-$6,000, based on installation costs and quantity discount
  • GPS Spot Tracker unit is $150 and uses GPS satellites to track the movements, pinpoint locations, and send messages
  • FireStop canister is $50 and is effective for up to five years. The canisters are held in place by a magnet. Pierce County uses two canisters per box, placed just inside the ballot slots.

For more information about the Pierce County ballot drop box program, contact Whitney Rhodes, Assistant to the Auditor, at whitney.rhodes@co.pierce.wa.us.


Are you exploring new techniques for making voting convenient and safe in your jurisdiction? We want to feature your story in our newsletter. Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org.

Franklin County, Ohio builds public/private partnerships to recruit poll workers

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in December 2014. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Franklin County, Ohio is home to the Ohio State University, which has the third largest enrollment among public universities in the United States. The state capital, Columbus, is also the Franklin County seat. The Franklin County Board of Elections serves about 803,000 registered voters. They recruited 3,600 poll workers to staff 405 polling locations for the 2014 General Election.

Staff members recruit poll workers at the Ohio State University. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara.

Staff members recruit poll workers at the Ohio State University. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara.

The Franklin County Board of Elections partners with local employers to recruit great poll workers. In August 2014, they received an Election Center Professional Practices Program award for their poll worker recruitment program, Champions of Democracy.

A persistent opportunity

Poll workers are on the front lines of democracy on Election Day. They enforce voter identification laws, verify a person’s registration status and address, confirm the correct ballot style for voters, and operate voting equipment. Poll workers have the awesome opportunity to increase the public’s confidence in elections and government. That's why effective poll worker recruitment and training programs are so important in local election administration.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) states that recruiting poll workers is a persistent challenge for local election administrators. The PCEA recommends in their final report that jurisdictions should recruit private and public sector employees, as well as students, to become poll workers.

Better citizens, better employees

The Champions of Democracy program expands the recruitment pool of poll workers by partnering with the private and public workforce in Franklin County. In regards to recruiting and training excellent employees, companies are already doing the heavy lifting. Many of the qualities that make a person an excellent employee also make them an excellent poll worker.

“As the election process becomes more sophisticated, it’s critical that poll workers be able to understand and apply new technologies. Private sector employees are an excellent source of trained, adaptable, and technology-savvy workers to meet this need,” says Nicholas K. Akins, President and CEO of American Electric Power.
Ohio State students experiment with voting equipment. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara

Ohio State students experiment with voting equipment. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara

With the help of generous employers who encourage their employees to work the polls on Election Day, the program has recruited and trained hundreds of poll workers.

“Champions of Democracy has given us a reliable source of poll workers so dedicated to the job that eight out of ten are with us from one year to the next. That stability is a key factor for holding successful elections in our county,” explans Dana Walch, Deputy Director at the Franklin County Board of Elections.

Election results can affect people both personally and professionally. The experience of working the polls on Election Day strengthens ties to the communities where people live and work.

“It was a long day: we worked from 5:30 a.m. until 9:15 p.m. This is the type of job where attention to detail is critical. At the end of the night, we were wiped, but our team enjoyed each other so much we vowed to come back just to have the privilege of working together again. In the end, I learned a lot, had a great time, and will definitely be volunteering again. Thanks so much for the opportunity,” expresses Diamond C. Zimmerman, Senior Administrative Assistant at the Central Ohio Transit Authority.

Champions in action

The Franklin County Board of Elections successfully engages the business community by creating partnerships based on shared values. Both the Board and local employers recognize that fair and accurate elections contribute to a healthy democracy and community.

Champions of Democracy is designed to:

  • Recruit private sector employees to become poll workers
  • Train poll workers at their workplace
  • Give non-registered employees the opportunity to register to vote

Election staff commits time and resources to developing outreach materials that educate local employers about the benefits of the program. They set up a display at a workplace and are available to talk with employees and answer questions. Staff also runs a mock election where employees have the opportunity to use the Franklin County voting machines.

Employees who commit to working the polls on Election Day are offered a training class at their office, which saves them a trip across town. In addition to recruiting poll workers, election staff helps people register to vote and update their voter registration.

A citizen completes a form at an Ohio State voter registration drive. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara.

A citizen completes a form at an Ohio State voter registration drive. Photo courtesy of Christine A. Fulara.

All in all, the Champions of Democracy program connects people and businesses to local government while demystifying the voting process. 

Interested in more tips on poll worker recruitment? Check out the Election Assistance Commission’s 6 tips on employing effective poll workers.


How is your office working with the community to recruit and retain great poll workers? Let us know at hello@techandciviclife.org.

 

Loudoun County, Virginia calculates election results with Kindle tablets

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in November 2014. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Loudoun County, Virginia is a suburb of Washington, D.C. It’s home to the famous Catoctin Creek Distillery and Dulles International Airport. The County has 213,000 registered voters, 85 precincts, and 3 absentee voting locations. The Loudoun County election office manages over 800 poll workers every election.

The inside of Loudoun County's election office. Photo courtesy of Loudoun County Office of Elections.

The inside of Loudoun County's election office. Photo courtesy of Loudoun County Office of Elections.

And on election night, poll workers use Kindle tablets to report unofficial results to the election office. It’s called the Kindle Project, and Loudoun County received an Election Center Professional Practices Program award for the project in August 2014.

Speed and accuracy on election night

Election night is a total thrill ride. Months of hard work are realized and unofficial results are tabulated -- sometimes under a hot media spotlight. Increasingly, people expect election results immediately after the polls close. On election night poll workers hustle to clean polling places, pack up equipment, and reconcile ballots. They do all of this at the end of a 14-hour work day.

In November 2013, Loudoun County launched the Kindle Project to help poll workers calculate and report unofficial results on election night.

The Kindle project

Loudoun County purchased 100 Kindle Fire HD tablets in 2013. Before every election, staff loads each tablet with documents, which are viewable and searchable without an internet connection. Documents include:

  • Emergency procedures
  • Virginia election code book
  • Chief Election Officer guide book

The tablets are configured to block all internet browsing, including social media. Poll workers use wireless internet connections in each polling place to connect to a Google spreadsheet. The spreadsheet and internet network are set up by election staff prior to Election Day.

The spreadsheet is customized for each polling place. It includes the races and candidates that voters are eligible to vote for in that particular precinct. The spreadsheet also includes basic formulas that automatically calculate totals in a certain column or row.

At the close of the polls, poll workers print the election results tape from the voting machine. They enter the preliminary results from the paper tape into the Google spreadsheet. While Google spreadsheets are similar to Excel spreadsheets in some ways, like sorting functionality and formulas, Google spreadsheets offer one major bonus: they share updates with collaborators in real time.

Poll workers update their spreadsheets with preliminary results while staff at the election office can see what they’ve entered, quickly review the numbers, and then release the preliminary results to the public.

A Google spreadsheet on a Kindle screen. Photo courtesy of Loudon County Office of Elections.

A Google spreadsheet on a Kindle screen. Photo courtesy of Loudon County Office of Elections.

Before the Kindle Project, Loudoun County poll workers printed the results tape from the voting machine and reported the unofficial results to the election office via telephone, sometimes after being on hold for up to 30 minutes or more, depending on the number of races and ballots styles. Poll workers say the tablet and Google spreadsheet improve their closing process by making it both easier and faster. And when poll workers get to go home 30 minutes earlier, everyone is happy.

Updates throughout Election Day

Not only are poll workers pleased with the project, the election staff, media, political parties, and the general public enjoy getting quicker preliminary results on election night, too.

In addition to unofficial election results, the Google spreadsheet includes a place for poll workers to enter the number of voters at designated times throughout the day. For example, each polling place records the number of voters at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. Because the numbers are entered into the Google spreadsheet, election staff can see voter turnout at each polling place throughout Election Day.

Closeup showing spreadsheet format on a Kindle screen. Photo courtesy of Loudon County Office of Elections.

Closeup showing spreadsheet format on a Kindle screen. Photo courtesy of Loudon County Office of Elections.

Campaigns, political parties, and the media are able to quickly get the turnout numbers from every polling place by simply contacting the Loudoun County election office.

Tablet technology

Loudoun County is considering new tablets for their polling places. Older tablets could be used for voter registration or shared with other county government departments. They are also exploring the option of adding Google Chat to their spreadsheets. Google Chat, similar to instant messaging, would allow election staff to communicate instantly with poll workers using the tablet and cut down on phone calls to the election office.

Want to learn more about the award that Loudoun County won? Visit the Election Center website to read about the Election Center Professional Practices Program.


How is your election office calculating and reporting results on Election Night? Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org so that we can feature your story next!

Hillsborough County, Florida publishes email newsletters to keep citizens engaged

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in May 2014. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Hillsborough County is located in western Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico. Tampa is its largest city and also the county seat. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections is Craig Latimer, elected in 2012. His staff manages approximately 300 polling places (347 precincts) on Election day and hires 3,500 poll workers each year. Hillsborough County currently has 756,000 registered voters.

A Newsletter about a newsletter

Hillsborough County’s election staff publishes a free monthly newsletter to inform readers of upcoming elections, deadlines, and community events. The newsletter is distributed via email, and copies are printed for sharing at voter registration drives and their four offices. In accordance with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, the newsletter is published in both English and Spanish.

Hillsborough County's newsletter banner with image of Craig Latimer

Hillsborough County's newsletter banner with image of Craig Latimer

Director of Communications Gerri Kramer runs the comms department for the Supervisor. In addition to a regular newsletter, election staff is active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The newsletter content complements the office’s social media messaging, and the newsletter format enables staff to go into more detail about a specific topic -- for example, providing poll worker profiles.

Sending emails

Hillsborough County election staff members use Constant Contact for their newsletter email service. The cost of the service varies depending on the size of your distribution list and other factors. MailChimp is another popular email marketing service provider that's free for a list of up to 2,000 subscribers.

The staff is always working to grow its email subscriber list. There’s a subscribe link on the VoteHillsborough.org website. The newsletter is shared and mentioned on Facebook and Twitter. Neighborhood association presidents have been encouraged to subscribe and share it. And newsletter sign-up sheets are put out at events and open houses. In addition, Craig shares the newsletter when he speaks to local civic groups. Sign up for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections mailing list to stay in touch.

Archiving newsletters

Regular newsletters create a narrative of an office’s mission. By archiving newsletters you can track the progress of your office and staff over time and use them for reference in the future. In addition to sharing their newsletter via email, Hillsborough County saves each issue for easy printing. Past issues are archived and available for viewing on their website.

Are you interested in writing a newsletter for your election office? We’re here with some tips and tricks to help you get started.

5 tips to help launch your election office newsletter:

  1. Make a plan and get approval. Develop a plan that identifies who will write the newsletter, who will proofread the newsletter, how it will be shared, and how often it will be published. Aim for a consistent tone and steady publication frequency. Get approval before investing too much of your team’s time.
  2. Write for your audience. First, define who your audience is. Then, determine what information is relevant to your audience. Write for your readers in every issue.
  3. Use plain language. Your audience may not be versed in election jargon. Make your material easy to understand by avoiding acronyms and complicated legal terms. Create short lists for when writing instructions.
  4. Include images. Most readers process visuals faster than text. Images and graphics can help readers retain information like election deadlines and registration requirements.
  5. Ask questions. Engage with your readers by asking questions -- for example, “What inspires you to be a poll worker?" Questions invite readers to join the conversation, and they help drive your mission forward.
This "personality" infographic is an example of what's included in Hillsborough County's newsletter

This "personality" infographic is an example of what's included in Hillsborough County's newsletter

In addition to these above guidelines, you should remember to stock printed copies of your newsletter in your local government offices, businesses, and civic groups. Keep newsletters available for your voter registration drives and community service events.


How does your election office use communications outreach to promote engagement among your community? Let us know at hello@techandciviclife.org.

Hardeman County, Tennessee holds open houses to strengthen community ties

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in April 2014. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Hardeman County is located in the southwest corner of Tennessee, bordering Mississippi. Its county seat is the city of Bolivar. The Hardeman County Election Commission serves nearly 14,000 registered voters and manages 13 polling places on Election Day. Election staff recruit and trains over 100 poll workers every year. Amber Moore is the Administrator of Elections in Hardeman County, and she is also the president of the Tennessee Association of County Election Officials.

The outside of Hardeman County's election office. Photo courtesty of the Hardeman County Election Commission.

The outside of Hardeman County's election office. Photo courtesty of the Hardeman County Election Commission.

Open government -- literally

We first met Hardeman County election staff members at their open house in September 2013. It was their first such event, and it served as a time for staff to interact directly with the community, answering questions and sharing important information about elections.

Why host an open house?

  • Connect with people in your community
  • Collect feedback about your service
  • Promote civic engagement

Perhaps the biggest benefit of hosting an open house at your local election office isn’t reminding everyone about the upcoming election or recruiting poll workers but simply creating a transparent and welcoming space. When people trust the administrators who conduct elections and they understand the election process, their confidence in voting increases.

A person’s positive interaction with your office may help motivate future actions like updating a voter registration after moving. Overall, an open house can improve people’s attitudes about democracy and government.

Provisional ballot boxes in Hardeman County. Photo courtesy of the Hardeman County Election Commission.

Provisional ballot boxes in Hardeman County. Photo courtesy of the Hardeman County Election Commission.

Before opening your doors

Preparation is key to a successful open house. Be sure to consider these three things before the big event:

  1. Enlist other local government offices to participate. By coordinating your open house with other local government events, you can create a great civic experience for your community. Pick a date and time that work best for all participants.
  2. Create a safe and inviting space. Expensive voting equipment and sensitive records may be stored at your office. An open house must not jeopardize the security of government property. Brief your staff on the boundaries of the tour. And, if your budget allows, patriotic decorations and refreshments are real crowd pleasers.
  3. Invite everyone. Use all communication media available to spread the word about your open house –- including newspaper, radio, your website, social media, and word-of-mouth. Plant a sign outside your building at least one week in advance. Personally invite board members, county officials, community leaders, students, etc. If you are coordinating your event with other government offices, your community reach will be significantly greater.

How does your local election office cultivate transparency and trust among the citizens you serve? Share your strategies with us at hello@techandciviclife.org, and we'll share them with our readers.

Ramsey County, Minnesota helps voters and poll workers with shareable YouTube videos

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in March 2014. 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 at hello@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Ramsey County is home to Minnesota’s capital, St. Paul. Like its twin city, Minneapolis, St. Paul is home to an elaborate skyway system that goes from building to building, allowing pedestrians to walk around downtown while avoiding bad weather. Ramsey County is the smallest and most densely populated county in Minnesota. Naturally, folks huddle to stay warm.

The Ramsey County elections office manages 127 polling places and trains an average of 1,300 election workers every year. One of the office's ongoing goals is to continue to make voting more accessible, and Ramsey County is bringing to life the recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to better train poll workers on how to set up accessible polling places. 

The office is using communication to help improve the voter experience. Election staff members maintain a YouTube channel where they post instructional videos for voters and training videos for poll workers. They also use social media, like Facebook and Twitter, to publicize official election information.

Check out their series of videos for poll workers that cover topics from setting up the polling place to operating their ballot-marking equipment, the AutoMark.

Screenshot from Ramsey County's training video on the AutoMark machine

Screenshot from Ramsey County's training video on the AutoMark machine

Why video?

  • Produces uniform presentation of training material
  • Reduces costs of in-person training
  • Increases transparency and confidence in the voting process

Consistent curriculum

Videos help Ramsey County administer a standardized poll worker training program. Regardless of what class a poll worker attends, each worker is presented the same information.

In addition to posting videos online where poll workers and the public can access information anytime, Ramsey County uses the videos for in-person trainings. They perform the same training program online and offline, creating a consistent experience for everyone.

Ramsey County has received plenty of positive feedback on their videos. Overall the videos have been well received, replacing the method of a trainer just reciting a PowerPoint slide presentation.

Costs and savings

The Ramsey County elections office partners with its county and city communications departments to post videos to YouTube. Department managers ensure that posting YouTube videos is within the prescribed boundaries of the county's social media policy and internet use policy.

The elections department was one of the first Ramsey County departments to rely heavily on videos for training, and it also uses social media. So, consulting with management and having written policies in place helps them build buy-in and address concerns throughout the process.

The videos are recorded and produced in-house. The office staff does not have a professional background in video production, so to prepare, three staff members attended classes on how to use video editing software.

“The first year, there was a lot of trial and error," explains Elections Specialist Megan Haugen, "but once we figured out a workflow, it was a really fun challenge.”

Costs are mostly staff time with minimal costs for new software. The staff time included three full-time staff members working part time on the video project for a few months, plus the cost of hiring election judges for the filming.

But there are savings, too. Part of the staff time was already dedicated toward election judge training development. And in addition, the costs for in-person training time are reduced because they lower the number of in-person trainings conducted.

Telling the story of local election administration

Videos are easily shared with the public, which helps increase transparency of the voting process and voters’ confidence in election results. Ramsey County election administrators tell the story of their work through many media – in-person, local newspapers, videos – and pictures are another powerful platform.

Photo collage used for the Ramsey County elections Instagram account. Photo courtesy of Ramsey County election department.

Photo collage used for the Ramsey County elections Instagram account. Photo courtesy of Ramsey County election department.

To take just one example, Ramsey County uses Instagram to edit and share pictures and short videos.

If you'd like to see how election office are using Instagram, check out the New York City Board of Elections and the Collier County, Florida Supervisor of Elections. You can also find ELECTricity on Instagram.


How are you using video and pictures to meet challenges in your election office? Email us at hello@techandciviclife.org and share your story.