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 by emailing email@example.com -- 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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.