As state legislatures shift into high gear, many of them are considering election reform legislation, both expansive and restrictive. In Florida, a bill to enact online voter registration has already been introduced in the state senate. In at least three other states - Nebraska, Iowa, and Colorado - there has been talk, if not movement either within the legislature or prompted by the Secretary of State to introduce stricter voter ID requirements.
In some states, making progress on positive election legislation seems like a far-reaching goal. In other places, the state legislatures making strides toward reform may not be able to enact changes as expansive as necessary or desired. This is why local elections and elected officials are the ideal candidates to champion positive election reform. They have the ability to herald change not only through the implementation of new municipal and county ordinances, but also through the adoption of administrative practices.
Local officials can take action in four critical areas of elections: voter registration, poll worker recruitment and training, voter education, and administrative practices. Each of these areas presents opportunities for local officials to implement common-sense procedures and expand the franchise of voting.
Voter registration is the first, most crucial barrier to voting. Municipalities can provide expanded voter registration opportunities by promoting online voter registration, facilitating new residents' registration, promoting registration in conjunction with commercial transactions, and using deputy voter registration programs. They can also take advantage of preregistration if it is offered in their states, and promote voter registration amongst young people by collaborating with high schools to register 16- and 17-year olds.
Municipalities looking to ensure they have enough poll workers on Election Day can implement various recruitment programs, including student poll worker programs and city employee poll worker programs. Specifically targeting bilingual students to participate in poll worker programs helps build a group of poll workers who are skilled in various languages and are familiar with technology. Officials can also partner with local businesses and organizations to have them secure their employees as poll workers at specific assigned precincts, through something like an "Adopt-A-Precinct" program.
Effective and accessible poll worker training is crucial to smooth Election Day procedures. Thus, municipalities should consider a number of training methods, including providing online training; supplemental training information; and training materials with photos, diagrams, and hypotheticals. Election officials should also consider dividing poll workers' responsibilities so each poll worker can focus on his or her specific Election Day task.
Election officials should be creative in how they disseminate information about voting. They can schedule visits to schools and community organizations to talk about the specifics of registering and voting, establish a volunteer program whereby city residents can serve as ambassadors to talk about voting details in their communities, and implement effective social media outreach. Local officials should also consider implementing robust language access programs on voting and providing plain language information to voters on the various elected positions and ballot issues.
Local officials can also consider implementing a wide range of helpful administrative practices as an alternative to enacting citywide ordinances. These include setting convenient voting hours where there is flexibility, expanding the availability of early voting locations, scheduling municipal elections at the same time as state and federal elections, and designing easy-to-navigate and accessible city elections websites.
One promising example of local reform from 2014 is the implementation of same day registration in Illinois. The program started as a pilot at 18 polling sites in Chicago and suburban Cook County for the 2014 general election. Nearly 6,000 voters took advantage of this opportunity. As a result of the pilot program's success on the local level on Election Day 2014, the state legislature enacted statewide same day registration in December.
As state legislatures consider opportunities to enact sensible election reform this winter, local officials should similarly be active in implementing reform in their areas. Local elected and elections officials have the ability to directly impact the voting experience for people in their communities, and they should embrace the chance to steer the elections landscape in a positive direction.
Archita Taylor, Staff Attorney at the Fair Elections Legal Network, contributed to this article and authored "Local Initiatives Designed to Improve the Voting Experience: Concepts for Local Elected Officials and Election Officials."