Experience is the Best Guide


[Image courtesy of sekho]

This Note also appeared in the April 11 electionlineWeekly.

I talk a lot about the generational change underway in the field of elections and the need to identify, recruit and train the election administrators of the 21st Century.

Sometimes when I do, I get feedback suggesting that this focus on the future slights current and former election officials who have served their communities for years.

To that, I plead not guilty; while the job is changing to include new skills like data security and design, it will still include countless key aspects of election administration that endure even as laws and technology change.

In other words, while a new generation of election officials may step into the jobs of the departing generation, they will need to acquire and emulate numerous key traits exemplified by their predecessors before they can fill their shoes.

Indeed, four recent retirements in the field demonstrate the kind of commitment and innovation that the next generation of election officials will want to keep in mind as they take the reins of the nation’s democracy:

  • + Contra Costa, California’s Steve Weir was, to paraphrase a country song, “data before data was cool” – his passion for collecting, analyzing and acting upon information about the electoral process was ahead of his time. I still quote one of his favorite sayings all the time: “Data is the best antidote to an anecdote!” He also wasn’t afraid to be creative when it came to solving problems – like the time he and his staff used a steam iron to press creased ballots in order to help feed them through the scanners.
  • + Larimer County, Colorado’s Scott Doyle pioneered the concept of Election Day vote centers – using technology and well-situated polling locations to reinvent the voting experience by detaching it from a reliance on neighborhood precincts. In addition, he was years ahead of most of the field with regard to electronic pollbooks.
  • + Clark County, Nevada’s Larry Lomax had an extraordinary understanding of the need to focus on elections from the voter’s point of view. His commitment to bringing polling places to voters rather than the other way around – locating voting machines in grocery stores and malls – helped redefine the concept of a “community location” in siting voting locations.
  • +Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman (who has announced she will not run for office in 2014) was a champion for military and overseas voting rights – providing impetus for change on an issue that had languished for many years. Most importantly, she embraced the need for bipartisanship and kept the focus on the voters receiving the ballot instead of the candidates who might (or not) benefit.

Their example sets a very high bar for the next generation of election administrators. The lessons they teach – be flexible, be innovative, focus on the voter and collect data fanatically but never let partisanship affect your performance – is an excellent curriculum for anyone hoping to work in election administration.

10 Comments on "Experience is the Best Guide"

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