Humphrey School readies officials for midterms, future elections

Amid concerns with national security, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs plans to use national experts’ voices to grow its election administration certification program.

Illustrated by Jane Borstad

Illustrated by Jane Borstad

Audrey Kennedy

Amid national concerns about election security, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs has taken steps to bolster its election administration certification program.

The 12-credit, online certificate for election administration, now in its third year, created a committee this month comprising prominent election administration experts from around the country. The group plans to guide new curriculum for the program and grow its enrollment after seeing success in its first years. 

“Although the committee is newly formed, it’s already started working,” said Doug Chapin, a member of the committee and director of election research at Fors Marsh Group. This week, it is launching a new course on cybersecurity that will teach students about potential problems in future elections, including the 2018 midterms.  

“The goal is to take the classes and areas of study that we’re working on and find ways to make sure we’re keeping courses relevant to the various audiences, which are existing election officials, current students, IT, design [and so on],” Chapin said. 

According to Chapin, who also teaches courses in the program, the committee wants to use members’ ties in the field to generate new ideas for courses, while attracting potential students and instructors from across the country.

“I’ve been an election geek my whole life, but I still learn something in every class from just about every student. The beauty of these classes is that they’re able to evolve as we get those insights over time,” he said.

With courses in voter outreach, data analysis and election laws, the program aims to teach students and seasoned professionals alike. Only nine people have earned the certification so far, but the number is set to grow soon. More than 50 students are currently enrolled. 

Ginny Gelms, elections manager in Hennepin County and program graduate, said although she entered the program with ten years of experience in the field, it gave her a better sense of elections both in the state and nationwide.

“I’ve always worked in larger jurisdictions, so it gave me a better sense of how to work with my colleagues at the county level across the state,” she said. “It’s been helpful … to mentor other folks in the elections profession.”

Larry Jacobs, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance and oversees the program, said there’s no other accredited program of this kind anywhere in the country.

“This is the first program in the country to professionalize election administration, and it’s 2018,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had to stitch together a network [of election professionals]. We’re the first program to do that, we’re the first to be thinking this way. We’re working with local people, the county and lists of thousands of current election officials.”