Hardeman County, Tennessee holds open houses to strengthen community ties

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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.