Wise County, Virginia recruits poll workers with Facebook posts

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in September 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!


Wise County is tucked in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia, about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville, TN. It is the home of the official outdoor drama of the Commonwealth, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, which tells the story of two feuding families coping with social and economic change in a Virginia mountain community.

Wise County’s registered voter population fluctuates between 23,000 and 24,000. The Office of General Register is staffed by one full-time Registrar, one full-time Assistant Registrar, and one part-time Assistant Registrar. Wise County has 12 precincts and 12 Election Day polling places, along with a Central Absentee Precinct (CAP) for all absentee voters.

Meeting people where they are

Allison J. Robbins is the Registrar for Wise County, and recently she’s been using Facebook as a tool to recruit poll workers. 

Allison J. Robbins sitting at her office desk. Photo courtesy of Allison J. Robbins.

Allison J. Robbins sitting at her office desk. Photo courtesy of Allison J. Robbins.

“I believe there are civic-minded citizens in our communities who are interested in serving as poll workers. Using Facebook to recruit poll workers gives election officials another tool to reach out to those citizens.”

Facebook is one of the most popular websites in the world. As of March 2015, it had over 1 billion active users. This month’s spotlight story, along with our Facebook Boosted Post step-by-step tech tutorial, outlines why and how an election office might boost posts on Facebook. 

Boosting Facebook posts

As far as online ad campaigns go, it was a simple process in Wise County. Allison created a post on Facebook and included the link to their poll worker sign-up form in the text of the post. She then boosted the post and narrowed the target audience to Wise County. 

Screenshot of Facebook ad recruiting poll workers using the iconic "I want you" Uncle Sam imagery

Screenshot of Facebook ad recruiting poll workers using the iconic "I want you" Uncle Sam imagery

The numbers

  • $40 budget

  • 2-week duration

  • Over 10,000 people reached

  • 27 online and 6 offline responses

Once the post was live, people showed interest by sharing the post, and 27 people submitted responses through the online form. After Allison and her staff received the responses, they contacted the interested citizens using the email address or phone number they provided. Staff verified their eligibility, gave them their training date, and assigned them to a precinct on Election Day. Thanks to the boosted Facebook post, Wise County was able to fill all of their poll worker vacancies in November 2014.

Next steps

Because of its ease of use, affordability, and positive results, boosting Facebook posts has significant potential for local election offices. Since last year’s ad campaign was so successful, Wise County plans to promote poll worker recruitment and other election events on Facebook throughout the year.

If you want to learn more about Wise County Registrar’s use of Facebook or their poll worker recruitment efforts, contact Allison J. Robbins at registrar@wisecounty.gov.

And you can visit the Center for Technology and Civic Life website to see more Facebook tech tutorials, including how to get started on Facebook and an example of a Facebook comment policy.


What do you think is the most effective way to recruit election workers in your jurisdiction? Has your election office developed new tools or programs that you’re really proud of? We want to hear from you. Email us at kurt@techandciviclife.org.

Guilford County, North Carolina builds a communication portal with Google apps

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 kurt@techandciviclife.org -- 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.

Screenshot of GEAR homepage menu showing several iconic menu items

Screenshot of GEAR homepage menu showing several iconic menu items

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

  • Free

  • 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 kurt@techandciviclife.org.

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.