Election officials across the country are constantly trying to better understand their voters and improve voter experience. A great example of this is the Escambia County, Florida Supervisor of Elections office. Last year they commissioned the Haas Center, a research and consulting arm of the University of West Florida, to conduct surveys of registered voters around both their August primary and November general election.
Recently I spoke with David Stafford, the county’s supervisor of elections, about this survey, specifically why they conducted the surveys and what they got out of it. Below is what he had to say.
EAC: Why did you do this survey?
Stafford: We made the decision to partner with the Haas Center at the University of West Florida for many reasons, but the overarching theme is that as an elections office, we wanted to have some way of measuring our performance and gaining insight on our voters' views on election administration. Our hope and expectation was that it would provide us with a clear indication of how we're doing currently, and by analyzing the data we can find new and better ways to serve voters in the future.
EAC: How is your office using the information?
Stafford: Every department in our office is using the data to review current practices and to determine the best ways to serve voters moving forward. For example, we found that 91.3% of in-person voters considered the performance of their poll workers to be "Excellent," a data point which provides validation to our approach to poll worker training. The survey also found that 82.3% of voters find our mailings useful and that 61.2% of voters never view our website or social media pages. As electronic communication to voters continues to grow, this provided an important reminder that a significant portion of our voters enjoy more traditional methods and we can plan accordingly.
EAC: What do you think the most important takeaways are from this survey?
Stafford: Overall, voters said they were satisfied with key aspects of their election experience. This is useful not as reason to rest on any perceived laurels, but rather to validate some of our strategies and identify areas on which to focus.
EAC: How much did it cost to commission the survey?
Stafford: Through discussing our ideas for a survey project with the Haas Center, we were able to identify the Northwest Florida Asset Valuation and Marketing Support Program, which provided funding support for this project. Although we provided "in-kind" support, we did not provide any financial contribution.
EAC: Would you encourage other jurisdictions to do surveys like this and find partnerships like you did with the Haas Center?
Stafford: Absolutely. Collaborations and partnerships between election officials and academic researchers can provide critical data and analysis to help advance the field of election administration. What began as a casual conversation between friends grew into a tremendous opportunity for both the elections office and the university.
EAC: Are you hoping to repeat this survey in future elections?
Stafford: Although we've not made any decisions about future research, I expect this is just the beginning of our involvement with the Haas Center and UWF. Regardless, data collection and analysis will continue to be a priority for us.
EAC: Anything else you’d like to add?
Stafford: I'd like to thank the EAC and the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, as well as individuals like Dr. Charles Stewart and Dr. Robert Montjoy, for highlighting the importance of data in elections and the need for additional work in this area.
The EAC would like to thank David for taking the time to talk about this great survey. We also want to learn more about other jurisdictions that have undertaken similar efforts. For example, we know that Orange County, California has conducted multiple surveys of poll workers over the years and their findings have provided useful guidance for election officials. We encourage those in jurisdictions who have conducted similar surveys to reach out to us and share your stories. We’d love to feature them here on our blog!