A Plan for 2017 and Beyond

It’s been a busy few months for the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR)! We just attended and presented at the NASED and NASS conferences in DC last month and updated the attendees on what we’re working on, and we want to share this information with all of you.

First, it might be helpful to look back at how far we’ve come. The last 10 years have seen major changes in the administration of elections, as the field shifts away from outdated, 19th century technologies and tactics and towards a system that can meet the needs of the 21st century voter. Many of us have worked to expand online voter registration from two states in 2008 to 34 states and the District of Columbia now, while the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) has grown from seven states at its inception in 2012 to 20 states and the District of Columbia today. Once reserved for a handful of states, convenience voting – including mail and early voting – has spread to approximately three-quarters of the country. These reforms together help create a voting system that is responsive to voters and they have spread across the country and across the political spectrum, from states as blue as California and Connecticut to states as red as Alabama and Utah. As more states adopt reforms like these, we are moving closer to achieving an election system that breeds higher voter satisfaction, increased efficiency, and cost savings.

These reforms mean that the foundation of our democracy is strong and getting stronger, but it is also being challenged as never before. Our system of elections is under attack and many voters have doubts, but we know this doesn’t paint the true picture of how secure and effective U.S. elections are. Closing the gap between the concerns some voters feel and the true integrity of the process, while simultaneously making improvements is an important goal, and though we’ve worked to make it easier than ever before for most citizens to register to vote, find information on an election, and cast a ballot, a historically small percentage of citizens turn out to vote, particularly in non-presidential elections. Forty-seven million citizens who voted in the 2012 presidential election chose not to vote in the 2014 midterm election - these citizens were registered to vote, received information about the election, knew how to fill out their ballot, and knew the location of their polling place, but after voting in 2012, chose not to participate in 2014.

As we continue to build an even stronger election system in this country, it is important to find a way to approach the problem of diminishing turnout in an inclusive, non-partisan way. If we can reach just 10 percent of the 47 million who sat out in 2014, we can increase midterm turnout by nearly five million voters and can build on that to encourage voters who previously only voted in presidential elections to vote once every two years, and then in primary elections, and then even in local elections.

This isn’t about the outcome of any specific election, or about helping Democrats or Republicans. We must find better tools and methods to make the case to all eligible citizens that voting matters, even when it won’t change the outcome of a particular election. This effort must involve a variety of messengers, including government, and if we’re successful, we’ll develop habitual voters who believe that their participation matters to the health of our democracy and who get satisfaction from participating in a system that works well.

In pursuing this mission, CEIR’s work will focus on the following areas:

Efficient Election Administration: CEIR will continue to encourage states to join ERIC and will assist states with the implementation of online voter registration to ensure the systems are secure, user friendly, and fully accessible. CEIR will also work with states to further integrate data from their state agencies into voter registration to get more voters on the rolls and to keep their records accurate as they move.

Improving Faith in Elections: Working with technical experts, researchers, and election officials, CEIR will work to inform the public and the media about the checks and balances in place, while also ensuring that states have the tools necessary to ensure voting technology is secure and protected against hacking, with ballots than can be audited fully and transparently.

Increasing Baseline Voter Turnout: In 2017, 2018, and beyond, in partnership with election officials and others, CEIR will conduct research to test methods to increase turnout in all elections, with a focus on those with historically low turnout.

We are also pleased to announce our new Board of Directors, whose diversity of experience and perspective will contribute greatly to our work:

  • Pam Anderson, Executive Director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, former Clerk and Recorder of Jefferson County, Colorado.
  • Trey Grayson, President & CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, former Secretary of State of Kentucky.
  • Jeff Jonas, Data Scientist and Serial Entrepreneur, former IBM Fellow and mastermind behind the software and architecture that powers ERIC.
  • Kirk Jowers, dōTERRA International’s Vice President of Corporate Relations and European Markets, former Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah and Chairman and General Counsel of Mitt Romney’s Commonwealth PACs.
  • Kevin Kennedy, former Director and General Counsel for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
  • Ray Martinez, President of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, former Commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission.

We expect to hire our first few employees this spring and summer, so keep your eyes out for job announcements. We’ll be conducting research throughout the year, and we hope to see you in the next few months as we travel to the states and attend conferences. Let us know if we can help you in any way, and I’ll be in Los Angeles next week keynoting the Future of California Elections conference on March 9, so if you’re out that way, let me know!