The cyclical nature of elections sometimes brings to mind the classic Bill Murray film, “Groundhog Day,” which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. If you haven’t seen the film, Murray plays arrogant weatherman Phil Connors, who is trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with his producer Rita Hanson by a snowstorm he didn’t predict. He is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right and becomes a better man.
While elections are as predictable as the occurrence of Groundhog Day, unexpected events can happen, which is why election officials are constantly evaluating and striving to improve the voter experience. While this constant internal planning and assessment often goes unnoticed by those who participate in elections, officials on the front lines of administering the vote know the importance of these efforts. It took Phil Connors multiple attempts to “get it right” when dealing with the unexpected, but election officials don’t have that same luxury of time. As they prepare for this year’s midterm election, here are some EAC tips to help election administrators plan for success and not relive the same challenges of the past.
- Use the new EAVS data tools and review EAVS “Deep Dives” on election administration data. In the nearly 15 years since the first Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) was released, the survey has served as the most comprehensive nationwide data set on election administration in the United States. Historically, it has been fairly easy for election officials to use this data to see broad election trends, but it was more challenging to drill down into a specific jurisdiction’s data and compare that information with other similar jurisdictions. The recently released EAVS Data Interactive gives users the ability to examine specific EAVS data at the state and local level and compare jurisdictions side-by-side with other jurisdictions that have a similar number of registered voters. This powerful tool helps users examine how changes in election policies and procedures impact the administration of elections and provides valuable information for making resource decisions. The EAC has also released a series of EAVS “Deep Dive” research briefs into a variety of issues related to administering elections, including voter registration, poll workers and polling places and early, absentee and mail voting.
- Examine innovative election administration efforts. There are always ways to improve how elections are run, the experience of voters, and the ability of election workers to do their jobs. No matter the size of a jurisdiction or the size of its budget, there is much we can learn from our election peers, including the winners of this year’s “Clearies” awards. The “Clearies” are the EAC’s annual competition to recognize outstanding innovations in election administration. Jurisdictions awarded a “Clearie” last year also demonstrated inventive and innovative approaches and policies that other election officials and jurisdictions may wish to emulate.
- Prepare yourself for the unique challenges posed by close elections. Elections with razor-thin margins now happen regularly in the United States. When they do, political parties, candidates and their lawyers scramble to collect information that could help them contest the election in a recount and/or post-election litigation. This intense scrutiny often presents serious challenges to local election officials, who must neutrally implement the law, fairly administer any recounts, and potentially participate in legal proceedings – all the while keeping the public and affected candidates informed of the process. The EAC recently concluded its “Recount Ready” blog series where we spoke with election officials about their experiences with close elections, recounts and election contests. If you have time to read just one, take a look at the final post which summarizes eight key takeaways from the series.
Much like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the process of administering an election – while seemingly repetitive – always allows room for improvement, as each election brings its own issues. Election administrators are constantly thinking about a process or procedure to refine, a system that needs to be remediated or replaced, or a potential crisis that could arise may require enacting a contingency plan. Elections are definitely not “the same every year,” and we applaud election officials for their sustained efforts to make the process even more efficient, secure, and accessible.
As Phil tells Rita when she muses that no one could plan a day like the one they just experienced: “Well, you can, it just takes an awful lot of work.”