At this time of year when I was a child (unless we were sick), my entire family donned aprons and overalls, and under the exceptional leadership of my mother engaged in the annual rite of spring cleaning. We took down and aired out every curtain and drape, washed the windows with ammonia and newspaper, wiped down the walls and baseboards, organized the garage, and fixed, waxed, polished, mended, and dusted everything in and around our house. To my mother’s dismay, even the thought of doing that in my own house today wears me out. As one now famous lady said in a TV interview a few years ago, "Ain’t nobody got time for that!" Paging Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Grumpy.
There are various theories on the origins of spring cleaning. In the Jewish tradition, a thorough house cleaning to remove any bread, even the tiniest of crumbs, proceeds Passover, which is traditionally observed in the spring. Many Christians use the forty days of "lent" before Easter, also celebrated in the spring, to cleanse their houses and hopefully their souls. Persians celebrating their New Year’s Day, or Norouz, which falls on the first day of the spring, call it "khooneh takouni," which means, "shaking the house." In colder climates, spring meant turning off the coal furnace, which provided a welcome opportunity to clean the soot build up from the winter off the walls and furnishings.
Whatever the origin, beyond tradition or habit, the reasons for spring cleaning are many. It provides a healthier environment, helps avoid illness from the buildup of crud, helps save money, makes things easier to manage and maintain, makes space for new additions, saves time in the future, and helps clear out the clutter to make it easier to focus on more important things. In spite of all the moans and groans from me, my siblings and even my father, my mother always found it therapeutic and stress relieving.
Take note my election administrator friends! All the reasons for spring cleaning apply to cleaning up your voter rolls. Spring cleaning time is list maintenance time! And this year especially, which is an "off year" for most of you, provides an optimal time to engage in this important task.
In addition to the above reasons, I can give you a few more. Accurate lists encourage more voter confidence. Clean rolls ensure that legitimate votes are not diluted. Correct poll books reduce lines. Verified names means fewer provisional ballots, which we know creates time-consuming follow-up. Error-free lists prevent disenfranchisement. Engaging in cleanup now, when there are no immediately upcoming elections (sorry Virginia and New Jersey), gives us the time we need to investigate any discrepancies ensuring that when the next election rolls around, all eligible voters are able to participate without any hassles.
Spring cleaning is a bit of an art and a science – and so is list maintenance. The EAC is here to help with tools and best practices. March is our GamePlan17 "List Maintenance" month. Start by reviewing your plan (and if you don’t have one, now is the time to make one), check to be sure you are following all the legal requirements, be sure you are using the most up-to-date databases, and start sweeping and scrubbing. Check out our website for information and call us if you need help. This chore really is important. It’s in the best interest of every election official and voter to have clean, accurate lists. As my mother would tell you, it keeps you healthy, saves time and money, and it’s good for your soul. So, heigh ho! Get to work! You got this!
An U.S. Election Assistance Commission blog written by EAC Chairwoman Christy McCormick