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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@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 by emailing kurt@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 kurt@techandciviclife.org and share your story.

Wake County, North Carolina answers voter questions with a redesigned election website

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in February 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 by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Wake County, North Carolina is home to the state capital, Raleigh, and is the most populous county in the Tar Heel State. With over 650,000 registered voters, the county's Board of Elections conducts elections for a dozen municipalities in the county. The election team recruits and trains 2,000 poll workers to staff 200 polling places every year.

Today we’re sharing the process that Wake County election staff went through to update their official homepage. From soliciting feedback from front desk staff to the director’s final approval, Wake County takes us behind the scenes of their recent website reboot.

Find resources for website design and more on our Election Administration Survival Guide.

Before

 The Wake County Board of Elections homepage before the redesign

The Wake County Board of Elections homepage before the redesign

Disclaimer: the old Wake County Board of Elections homepage wasn’t terrible. But they recognized that some limitations of the design -– gratuitous graphics, complicated text, hidden hyperlinks, and unused space -– made it difficult to meet the needs of their visitors. So, staff set out to simplify the page and focus on information that visitors are looking for the most.

After

 Wake County's new and improved Board of Elections homepage

Wake County's new and improved Board of Elections homepage

Prioritize information

Wake County election staff concluded that members of the public visit the website for information on three main topics: registering to vote, voting, and deep dives in areas like candidate information. With that in mind, the election team reduced the four existing categories of information down to three. Also, they created a slideshow banner to highlight seasonal topics like sample ballots, candidate filing, and early voting.

The new design brings to life some of the best practices identified by the Center for Civic Design. For example, the site's layout groups together the answers to common voter questions, and the homepage will feature sample ballots before elections.

Here’s how Wake County made it happen ...

Form a small team to lead the design process

With permission from the director, three members of the Wake County Board of Elections staff set out to create and deploy a fresh homepage design in two months. During the first month, the team met to:

  • Brainstorm ideal homepage design characteristics
  • Identify areas of improvement for the current homepage design
  • Research other local and state election websites

For guidance, the team noted some of their favorite election websites: the Hamilton County (OH) Board of Elections, the Virginia State Board of Elections, and the Miami-Dade County election department.

Solicit feedback from key stakeholders

A critical part of the team’s process was meeting with front desk staff to determine the questions that were frequently asked by the public. The team included easy-to-find answers to common questions in the new design. And they mapped a new homepage using a large dry-erase board. When the team landed on a new design that they liked, they presented it to the director for approval.

Review, review, review

During the second month, they spent time with Wake County Information Technology (IT) staff to find potential pitfalls of the proposed design. With IT’s support, the small team developed the look of the new homepage and supplemental pages. The entire election staff reviewed each page for accuracy and clarity. Finally, IT deployed the redesigned homepage and staff publicized it via social media. The process was complete and the new website went live.

Want to see the results? Check out the new Wake County Board of Elections homepage. And follow Wake County Board of Elections on Twitter and Facebook.

Planning to update your homepage?

What about you? Would your election website benefit from some remodeling? Consider these suggestions from the Wake County Board of Elections:

  • Track your most common questions from the public via phone and email to help you rank information
  • Include front desk staff when deciding what information to focus on
  • Add a section to highlight seasonal topics such as candidate filing, early voting schedule, and sample ballots
  • Update your calendar of events in January of each year and keep it current with unexpected events
  • Consult the Center for Civic Design’s Field Guide 7: Designing Election Department Websites

Have you recently redesigned your election website? Share your process and talk about what you learned by emailing us at kurt@techandciviclife.org. We're all in this together! 

Johnson County, Kansas gets a fresh perspective on elections through observation abroad

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in January 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 by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!


Encompassing much of the Kansas City metro area, Johnson County is the most populous county in Kansas. It has 370,000 registered voters, 250 polling places, and more than 2,500 election workers. The office has been led by Brian Newby, Johnson County Election Commissioner, since 2005. Brian is author of the popular blog of, by, and for election administrators, Election Diary.

Brian recently traveled to Georgia -- the Eurasian nation, not the Peach State -- where he observed the presidential election on October 27, 2013. While on his international mission, he focused on the election administration process, specifically polling place operations in rural areas.

Observers: guests, not pests

Election observers or poll agents have the potential to be a real headache. Without proper training, they can wreak havoc in a polling place, from spreading misinformation to intimidating voters. However, when they function as intended, election observers can add transparency and credibility to the voting process.

With his visit to Georgia, Brian a quite distinctive experience as an election observer. He was kind enough to share with us his biggest challenges and takeaways, and we supplement them by providing tips to election administrators who are curious about observing elections abroad.

Midnight train to Georgia

Georgia has 3.5 million registered voters -- nearly as many as Wisconsin. The country covers 27,000 square miles, edging out West Virginia in size. But despite the contrasts in culture and politics between Georgia and the U.S., similarities in election administration do shine through.

 In Georgia, registration books split so that voters form lines based on the their last names. Photo by Brian Newby.

In Georgia, registration books split so that voters form lines based on the their last names. Photo by Brian Newby.

For example, Brian observed the poll workers hustling on Election Morning so they could enjoy coffee together before the polls opened at 8:00 a.m. And, to avoid bottlenecking at the registration table, two separate lines were created based on the first letter of a voter’s last name.

Georgians vote entirely on paper. Voters are personally invited to participate in the election. And voting booths are allocated based on the number of registered voters: 1 booth per 500 registered voters, or 1 to 2 booths per polling place.

 Georgian voting booth. Photo by Brian Newby. 

Georgian voting booth. Photo by Brian Newby. 

A good kind of tired

Brian and his observer colleagues viewed the official training video for the Georgian poll workers. This behind-the-scenes peek prepared them for what actions to look for when they were observing in the polling place.

Brian’s other key takeaways include:

  • A training video makes a good orientation guide for domestic poll agents/observers. Publicly sharing video training materials would make the overall election process more transparent.
  • Accommodations for people with disabilities can still be improved in the United States, but there was much less support for accessible voting in Georgia. Polling places were expected to have ramps over stairs but none were observed.
  • Observers are deployed in two-person teams from different genders and countries. All observers must speak English and first-time observers are paired with veterans.
  • Backgrounds of observers are extremely impressive -- usually academics, researchers, or persons who have extensive international humanitarian aid experience. Few observers have direct election administration experience, however.

This clearly wasn’t a European vacation for Brian. The trip included its challenges, especially of the circadian nature:

  • Brian endured 24 hours of travel time, each way, and stayed in 5 hotels/homes over 10 nights. Indoor plumbing and heat were hit or miss.
  • He arrived in Georgia at 3:00 a.m. the first day of meetings, and the departure time was 2:30 a.m. on the last day.
  • Overall, the trip was a whirlwind of meetings, preparation, and an election. The logistics were incredibly well planned, though the experience was exhausting. But, as Brian said, it was "a good kind of tired."

Before you pack your bags

If you find yourself inspired to explore election administration beyond your borders, there are several organizations that sponsor international election observation programs.

Brian was assigned through Pacific Architects and Engineers-Rapid Expert Assistance and Cooperation Teams (PAE-REACT), and their assignments are very competitive.

PAE-React is specifically seeking international observers who are election administrators in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. If you work in one of these states, you should totally apply.

There are other organizations, including the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). PAE-React, which coordinated with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), provides opportunities for short-term assignments (less than two weeks), which are more conducive to those working full-time.

All assignments are volunteer roles, with most expenses paid. Funding for the OSCE comes from the United States Department of State, so assignment opportunities vary based on scheduling and budget conditions.

The most important step, Brian says, is to move from thinking about being an observer to applying to be an observer. Lay the groundwork so you can act when an opportunity arises.

Why not apply?

The application process involves acquiring references (usually a small, diverse group of local and national persons who have been involved in international assignments), a customization of your resume highlighting election and international experience, and a passport that doesn’t expire for at least 12 months from when you hope to be assigned.

Once you have applied, you’ll want to refresh your application periodically and request specific missions. If you are considered for a mission, you will need to:

  • Perform a phone interview
  • Pass online tests covering international events and geography
  • Complete paperwork and assigned readings

A good way to prepare, as well, is to host observers from other countries. Some states may need legislation to allow international observers at polling locations, but other organizations than these may occasionally have international guests who are interested in election worker training or other aspects of election administration. Brian suggests hosting these individuals as helpful preparation for international assignments.

Thanks, Brian, for sharing your international observation experience and for all you do for the folks in Johnson County!


What methods have you used to gain a fresh perspective on election administration? What have you learned from observing how elections are run in other areas? Drop us a line at kurt@techandciviclife.org so that we can tell your story. 

Portage County, Ohio uses research and policy to get social media off the ground

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in November 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!


Located between the cities of Akron and Youngstown, Portage County, Ohio is named for the portage of the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas Rivers. With its county seat at Ravenna, Portage County is home to 108,594 registered voters, 131 precincts, and over 500 poll workers. It’s also home to a member of Goodyear’s blimp fleet, the Spirit of Goodyear. But don’t head there just yet; rides on the blimp are available only by special invitation of the company.

We enjoy checking out the Portage County Board of Elections Twitter content, so we reached out to their Deputy Director, Brad Cromes, to learn about their leap into social media. Brad was kind enough to share what he's learned about how an election office can establish a social media presence responsibly and effectively. 

Buy-in: ask for permission, not forgiveness

From the time the idea of launching a Twitter account was first discussed to their perfect first Tweet, Portage County's elections team invested six months researching social media best practices and social media policies of local governments. Along the way, they dedicated time to creating buy-in by sharing statistics and research on how citizens, especially younger citizens, interact with government with their Information Technology (IT) department, forging a strong working relationship. They explored potential pitfalls of different social media platforms and the options to mitigate those risks.

As an independent board, the Portage County Board of Elections had the option to develop a social media program autonomously, without approval from the county IT department or the county Board of Commissioners. Nevertheless, they made the case to stakeholders as to why social media is a useful tool for the election office. They also solicited feedback on how to best use social media to share information with the public without creating a records retention issue or an unmonitored public forum.

 The proud seal of Portage County's Board of Elections

The proud seal of Portage County's Board of Elections

The journey began with preliminary research on how social media was being used by other local government offices in Ohio. Brad and his team discovered the benefits of social media, such as getting information directly to voters in a timely way. They then presented their data to the Board of Elections and got the green light for a more focused study on implementation. Following Board approval, staff met with the Portage County IT department to analyze different social media platforms.

Twitter vs. Facebook

The Portage County Board concluded that the two-way communication of Facebook, while a useful way to connect and interact directly with voters, presents challenges with records retention, forum moderation, and establishing guidelines. Given these liabilities, they decided Twitter would be the best fit for their office. Twitter would allow the Board to share timely information relevant to voters while not requiring the amount of monitoring and management of a Facebook page.

Social media policy

When developing their social media content policy, Portage County primarily studied:

With their eyes on Twitter, Brad and his colleagues wrote a policy that would govern their use of the service, and allow for expansion should the Board wish to explore more platforms in the future. They engaged IT staff, and with their advice developed the Portage County Board of Elections Social Media Content Policy.

 Portage County's Board Tweeted out its social media policy with the message to "play nice."

Portage County's Board Tweeted out its social media policy with the message to "play nice."

Staff presented the Twitter policy and proposal to their Board for final approval. They have been Tweeting like champions since August of 2013.

Twitter tools and resources

For election administrators who want to Tweet for your office, you can save time making your case by using the resources provided here -- especially Portage County’s social media policy. Once you’ve got approval and a policy for Twitter, follow up with these next steps:

  1. Tweet every day. Need content? Check out our Sample Tweets for Local Election Administrators.
  2. Archive Tweets. For help, try the TwInbox Extension for Outlook.
  3. Schedule content and track usage stats. Consider using Hootsuite or TweetDeck.

*Bonus tip: recruit an intern! Much of the work on this project in Portage County was completed by an election administration intern from a local university. The intern conducted the research, discussed findings with supervisors, and met personally with the county’s IT staff. As a student and young voter, the intern was the perfect messenger for the idea that social media could help reach voters where they were with the information they needed to participate fully in our democracy.


What steps have you taken to introduce social media into your election office? We'd love to shine some light on the good work you're doing. Email us at kurt@techandciviclife.org so that we can write our next spotlight article about you and your office. 

Cook County, Illinois develops metrics to evaluate poll workers

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in October 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!


With Chicago as its county seat, Cook County is the most populous county in the state of Illinois, and it's actually the second most populous county in the U.S. after Los Angeles County.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners runs elections within the city limits, and the Cook County Clerk’s office is the election authority for the more than 120 towns and villages in suburban Cook County. Noah Praetz is Director of Elections, and he and his team manage 1.46 million registered voters, 1,673 precincts, and a massive team of over 8,500 poll workers.

 Being a poll worker is an important job!

Being a poll worker is an important job!

Making tough personnel decisions is one of the many responsibilities of an election director. To keep the decision-making process transparent and focused, Noah uses data. Cook County is currently rolling out a poll worker scoring plan to strategically assign poll workers and improve poll worker training. Performance evaluation, along with recruitment, training, and retention, are critical program components to professionally staff polling places.

Benefits of evaluation

Successfully evaluating poll workers’ performance requires planning and devoted staff time. And it is totally worth it. Formal evaluations give decision-makers data to help them:

  • Pinpoint low-performing and high-performing poll workers
  • Identify poll worker training opportunities
  • Boost accountability in the event of a challenge

Evaluation metrics

Cook County’s poll worker scoring plan covers three performance areas: competency, reliability, and professionalism. Individual poll workers are rated by a staff of trainers and rovers who score poll workers on an overall scale of 1 - 100. Additionally, precinct teams are scored on a 100 point scale based on completing tasks such as the statement of ballots, setting up of the polling place, and delivering the correct ballot style to voters.

 Cook County's poll worker evaluation combines 3 categories of individual criteria with additional precinct scoring criteria

Cook County's poll worker evaluation combines 3 categories of individual criteria with additional precinct scoring criteria

Alternately, you can evaluate your poll workers on the specific duties that are most important to your office. Take these examples from Ohio and Maryland.

When Allen County, Ohio started evaluating their poll workers in 2001, they looked at poll books, ballot summary sheets, and returning supplies. Montgomery County, Maryland published a professional practices program in 2006 wherein they outlined their 3-part poll worker evaluation. The Montgomery County system includes in-depth analysis of Election Day documentation returned by poll workers, an Election Judge Performance Report prepared by trained observers, and a peer-to-peer survey conducted by staff after Election Day.*

Once you have determined exactly what you are measuring, make a plan to put it into action. Two resources that are required for the successful implementation are staff time before and after the election and a basic data management tool like Microsoft Excel.

The world is your oyster when it comes to poll worker evaluation. For an effective and long-term evaluation program, consider these tips.

Poll worker evaluation pro tips:

  • Plan ahead -- perhaps convene a task force to increase staff and poll worker buy-in
  • Inform poll workers about how they are being evaluated before evaluating them
  • Thoughtfully deliver results of evaluation, especially to low-performing poll workers

* Content sourced from Election Assistance Commission’s Poll Worker Best Practices guidebook, published in July 2007.


Cook County's way of evaluating poll workers is a great way, but as the examples from Ohio and Maryland show, it's not the only way. What methods have you developed for assessing poll workers in your area? Share your ideas with us at kurt@techandciviclife.org.

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. 

Inyo County, California supports voters with simplified instructions

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in August 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!


Spreading over 10,226 square miles, Inyo County is California’s second largest county. Its geography is a big part of why 60% of the county’s nearly 10,000 registered voters choose to vote by mail. The Registrar’s office employs 4 full-time employees, recruits 120 poll workers, and manages 15 voting precincts.

The Registrar’s office is responsible for maintaining the voter registration database, recruiting and training poll workers, setting up and delivering ballots, tabulating and certifying election results, and filing all of the statements required by the Political Reform Act.

Kammi Foote is Clerk-Recorder & Registrar of Voters for Inyo County. Kammi started election administration work in her twenties as a poll worker and steadily climbed her way up the ranks. Kammi was elected to her current position in 2010.

Like all serious election administrators, Kammi is committed to professional development. The county budget allows her an annual trip to the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO) conference. It was at a CACEO conference where Kammi discovered Dana Chisnell’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent. Powered by groundwork and applied research, the field guides are aimed to assist local election officials in creating better experiences for voters and poll workers.

Best practices from research

Vol 2: Writing Instructions Voters Understand helped Kammi improve the Inyo County sample ballot booklet. According to Kammi, the voter instructions in their original version were technically correct, but they were much less effective than in the revised edition that she put together.

Using Dana’s design guidelines, Kammi distilled the instructions into clear illustrations and plain language that made them easier for voters to understand.

Take a look for yourself at the changes that Kammi implemented:

 Inyo County's original guide, left, and revised version, right

Inyo County's original guide, left, and revised version, right

Would your voter materials benefit from some thoughtful revision? Check out these tips from the field guide that helped Kammi improve her county's ballot booklet.

Pro-tips from Vol 2: Writing Instructions Voters Understand:

  • Use short, simple, everyday words
  • Write instructions where the subject is “you" -- whether implied or stated
  • Tell voters what to do rather than what not to do

What strategies has your election office developed for implementing effective design and clear communication? Share your experience with us at kurt@techandciviclife.org so that others can benefit from your great ideas.