[Image via jamf]
The Democracy Fund’s Jennifer Morrell (former Arapahoe County, CO election official and expert on post-election audits) has a great piece in this week’s electionlineWeekly on “six things you can do for the 6th” – in essence, a to-do list for election officials to bolster voter confidence as November 6th, Election Day approaches:
The work of running an election continues to be under a microscope. Misconceptions and misunderstandings about what election officials do or don’t do seem to be consistently in our daily news feed.
Increasing the public’s trust in your elections is as much about the accuracy and validity of the processes you complete as it is about finding meaningful ways to communicate that work.
Below are six examples of common practices that can be enhanced to strengthen confidence in your election.
1. Open-door testing. Showcasing your public logic and accuracy (L&A) test is a great opportunity to explain how your voting system operates and the tests and checks performed to ensure it functions properly during your election. Look beyond the legal language you’re required post and tell the public why it matters and why they should attend. This is also a great time to invite candidates, party officials, and other stakeholders to observe the process and discuss the tremendous amount of preparation going on behind the scenes. Encourage the media to observe and report on your L&A test by giving them the opportunity to get stock footage of election setup.
Also, consider broadcasting the event on social media. Opening your doors to explain the relevance of this test, as a way to ensure the voting equipment is operating correctly and has not been tampered with, is an important element to increasing trust in your election. Finally, think about how you can use infographics to take voters behind the scenes of some of your other critical functions like how ballots are processed, results are uploaded, or the process for conducting a post-election audit.
2. Information ambassadors. You’ve trained poll workers to check in voters and issue ballots, but have you given them the tools and training to be your election information ambassadors? Poll workers often become the voice and face of your office on Election Day and should be an integral part of your communication plan. Despite their best efforts to do and say the right thing, it only takes one misinformed (or poorly trained) poll worker to sow doubt on the validity of your process.
Have you provided them with clearly defined talking points for the questions they may be asked or scenarios that might come up? Is there a clear channel of communication for notifying you when things don’t go as expected? What are the expectations and guidelines if they are approached by a journalist or challenged by a voter? All of this should be clearly documented in a clear and simple set of guidelines that everyone has at the ready.
3. Review communication plans. Communication is a fundamental component of cybersecurity. Most likely you have a plan to communicate a cyber incident with state and federal officials. Have you mimicked that plan for staff and poll workers in your own office? What is the protocol for someone who sees a suspicious email, misinformation on social media, or suspicious activity with voting equipment? Who is the first line of communication? How will the issue be documented? How will you know if it has been resolved? The Belfer Center’s Election Cyber Incident Communications Coordination Guide is a great tool that can be adapted into a local plan. Don’t forget to include protocol for regular check-ins throughout Election Day to ensure things are running smoothly.
4. Master the password problem. A unique, complex password for every component of your voting system and every user is here to stay. Labels and sticky notes with user names, passwords, and hints are a thing of the past. Nothing will discredit the great work you have done like a visitor spotting a password posted next to your EMS workstation. But with so many usernames and passwords, how can the cybersecure election professional remember them all? A password management system is the answer. If you haven’t seen it already, take the 5 minutes to read and share the Center for Democracy and Technology’s field guide for passwords.
5. Check those forms. A solid ballot reconciliation process and chain of custody is not only good election practice but should be a critical component for post-election audits and certifying your election. Reconciliation forms and custody logs designed poorly can lead to inaccuracies or incomplete forms. It’s not too late to review the guidelines from the Center for Civic Design for creating effective poll worker materials. It also helps to have someone outside of your office try and complete the forms unassisted to determine if the instructions are clear and the form follows a logical order.
Once reconciliation forms are returned to the election office is there a clear assignment to validate the information recorded? There is a tendency on Election Night for poll workers to force the math to work so they can be done. Is someone reviewing chain of custody forms and noting any discrepancies? Are they filled out legibly? Both the reconciliation forms and chains of custody logs provide evidence to validate the way your election was conducted. Make sure poll workers and staff understand their relevance to the integrity of the election.
6. Lights, camera, action! There is a reason actors rehearse and bands practice. When you only have one day (or a handful of days) to get it right, practice really does make perfect. Nothing sparks doubt about the validity of your election like voters and candidates seeing poll workers or staff disagreeing about a process or providing contradicting statements to the media about your office protocol. Walking and talking through the motions of your most critical processes ensures everyone gets it right, all the necessary supplies and components are in place, and everyone involved can communicate the process accurately and confidently, especially when you practice the worst-case scenarios.
Although you’re in the weeds of the 2018 midterms, it’s never too early to start thinking about future elections. Before 2020, some states may adopt risk-limiting audit (RLA) procedures. An important first step in a RLA is thinking about how you organize, track and store paper ballots.
A ballot manifest is a log or spreadsheet showing how individual ballots or batches of ballots are stored. The basic components include fields indicating the ID of each individual scanner, a unique number or precinct for the scanned batch, the total number of ballots scanned in the batch, and an ID number to indicate the container the ballots are stored in. Additional best practices include maintaining standard batch sizes, verifying the number of ballots being scanned prior to scanning [using a precision scale to weigh ballots and get a piece count can be quicker, and more accurate, than having someone hand count each batch], and reconciling the ballot manifest to the number of ballots scanned into the election tabulation system on a regular basis.
These are just a few examples of how small changes to a routine process can increase voter confidence and trust in your elections.
This is a fantastic resource; there is so much for election officials to do in the run-up to Election Day that it’s helpful to have a reminder of how it all links to the overall voting experience. Thanks to Jennifer for her continued service to the election community, and a tip of the ol’ electiongeek cap (I really do have one) to Mindy Moretti at electionline.org for sharing it with the field. Stay tuned!