Written by Edie Goldenberg, Professor Emerita of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of Michigan and Academy Fellow. Listen to the recent “Management Matters” podcast episode to learn more about Edie’s efforts to increase voter engagement.
As I read the steady stream of news stories about the harassment and resignations of local election officials around the country and the threats that drive some of them to need additional physical security for themselves and their families, I am glad I know our local clerk. Seven years ago, when I first became curious about why young people were not voting, I contacted our clerk and invited her to lunch, starting our occasional lunch outings. Those lunch discussions helped me understand the challenges she faces and appreciate the extraordinary efforts she and her office make to help eligible people vote.
All local election officials have concerns – about unfunded mandates and inadequate budgets, election security, constantly changing state rules that often complicate their jobs, a shortage of poll workers, a decline in public trust in elections, a need for better voter education, and more – but those concerns are not the same for each individual or community, and their concerns change over time.
What keeps your local election official up at night these days? Why not ask, listen closely, and see if you can help? At a minimum, you can express your appreciation for these dedicated public servants’ work. These days, they need to hear that more often.
But as Academy members, we can often do much more. We can attend voting rules and budget hearings and encourage others to join us. We can volunteer to train and work the polls on Election Day. We can write letters to the editor for our communities that respond to misinformation or publicly express appreciation for the hard work of our election workforce. Those of us with ties to academia can encourage other faculty to work with students on class projects that improve election worker websites or develop line-tracking software that helps minimize lines at the polls. For instance, I offered a course jointly with a filmmaker that had our students develop three videos explaining and urging student voting. Another colleague in computer science offered a course that challenged the security of election machines and suggested improvements. There are many possibilities, limited only by our imagination and dedication to the electoral process and the election workforce.
Besides, for me, having lunch with my local election official is always interesting and a lot of fun!