Takoma Park, Maryland and Travis County, Texas refine election procedures with a task force

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in September 2013. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!

Takoma Park, Maryland is a town of about 17,000 that's part of the Washington, D.C. metro area. Travis County, Texas is home to the state capital, Austin, and has over a million residents. What both places have in common is that they've recently used election task forces to tackle challenges of election administration.

Jessie Carpenter, City Clerk for Takoma Park, works in coordination with the Takoma Park Board of Elections to conduct regular and special city elections. The Board consists of seven members appointed by the City Council to serve a three-year term. Takoma Park has 10,500 registered voters and uses City Hall as its one Election Day polling places and early voting sites. Board members serve as election judges in City elections.

In 2013 the City Council established a Voting Task Force to make recommendations on any policies or regulations needed to strengthen voter participation in city elections. The Task Force consists of up to eleven members appointed by the City Council. Two members are youths age 16-21, and two members are recommended from the Board of Elections.

The Takoma Park Board of Elections logo

The Takoma Park Board of Elections logo

Patricia Hart, task force member, tells us that it is helpful that two members of the Board of Elections are also members of the task force because it allows them to coordinate their efforts.

The task force interacts with the board regularly to improve elections in Takoma Park. Together they are raising awareness about voter registration with the aim of increasing voter turnout and helping elections run more smoothly.

We followed up with Jessie to learn more about the mechanics of the task force. Because we promote resources that are free or low cost, we were especially curious about its price tag. As of right now, the costs are unclear, according to the City Clerk. The only expense is the staff time devoted to the task force.

Takoma Park isn’t the only election office exploring the benefits of a task force. Out west in Texas, the Travis County Clerk has established an Election Task Force that includes volunteer members from the community.

According to Michael Winn, Travis County Director of Elections, their task force has long been a huge part of the success of elections in Travis County under County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir. The task force was a part of her decision-making process when Travis County transitioned from punch card machines -- first to optical scan machines and more recently to electronic voting.

Travis County election staff assemble voting equipment. Photo courtesy of the Travis County Clerk.

Travis County election staff assemble voting equipment. Photo courtesy of the Travis County Clerk.

The task force was also instrumental in helping the Travis County Clerk implement early voting, vote centers, and the “Star Vote System,” a concept that utilizes a paper and electronic system.

Why build an election task force?

  • Focus attention on one specific election issue (equipment, registration, poll workers)

  • Generate feedback from diverse stakeholders

  • Increase public buy-in for election changes

We encourage local election administrators like you to actively engage your community members as you make decisions on voting procedures and equipment. For folks who need support drafting resolutions for a local voting task force like the one in Takoma Park, Promote Our Vote can assist. Their work is based on the idea that local governments can have measurable impact when it comes to voter participation.

How have you used teamwork and community collaboration in your election office? Share your experience at kurt@techandciviclife.org so that we can share it with others.