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


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