University starts online election program

University starts online election program

Youssef Rddad

Following a White House report urging universities to take on a role in training election officials, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Humphrey School of Public Affairs is launching a new online program that provides a certificate in election administration. The program, which will begin this fall, is the first of its kind in the country and aims to create consistency in election overseersâÄô training. The program comes at a time of technological change and recent close elections resulting in recounts, which have increased scrutiny on election officesâÄô operations. In Minnesota, election administrators are already required to attend a two-day training orientation and must receive 40 hours of additional training plus 18 hours for each year they work. Lower-level administrators also have to go to an orientation and receive 20 hours of more training. Though not an added requirement, the 12-credit post-baccalaureate program will offer those with or receiving a bachelorâÄôs degree courses in election law, design and management, among others. In the United States, there are more than 8,000 local election jurisdictions, but the type of training election workers receive varies depending on location, said Humphrey School political science professor Larry Jacobs, who co-founded the program. After MinnesotaâÄôs 2008 senatorial elections, where a close race led to a recount, incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman accused election offices of mishandling votes, which drew attention to how prepared election officials are for close races. âÄúThereâÄôs been no way to learn how to perform the career beyond just going and doing it,âÄù said elections administrator for Ramsey County and University political science graduate David Triplett. âÄúItâÄôs unacceptable, especially when you have to be 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time.âÄù Triplett has been working as an election official since 2007 but started as a student employee at the Ramsey County Election Office his sophomore year of college. Triplett said election official jobs range from entering voter registration cards, designing web content, filming training videos, meeting with city government leaders and talking to the media. âÄúThereâÄôs a whole world of tasks, but you also have to meet strict deadlines because come Nov. 3, the election is happening that day regardless if weâÄôre ready or not,âÄù Triplett said, adding that election officials work year-round between major election years because officials work on smaller county and local elections. Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said the new program at the Humphrey school is overdue, adding that he would be interested in sending newer, younger staff to participate in the program. In the next several years, there will be more job openings in the field due to many public service employees reaching retirement age, he said. Doug Chapin, a Humphrey lecturer who helped develop the program, said election offices have shifted to using online tools to help people cast votes, like electronic ballot systems. âÄúEnormous change is going on. You match it up with the training thatâÄôs available for frontline election staff, and itâÄôs incredible that we donâÄôt have more Floridas,âÄù Jacobs said, referring to the presidential election recount in 2000, where 537 votes separated George W. Bush from Al Gore. Jacobs said the training election officials receive is often different across offices, and new officials learn the ropes from veteran employees. The programâÄôs directors say they hope to diversify the field through the online program. âÄúWe wanted to find a way to bring new people and expand the field to different populations, whether it was young people, people with disabilities or folks who come from communities that are generally underrepresented in the political process,âÄù Chapin said. Associate Dean of the Humphrey School Laura Bloomberg said current University students would be able to enroll in the program and use financial aid they receive from the University. She said she hopes to enroll about 25 students starting in the fall. âÄúBecause we launched in the summer, we first focused at a broad national audience, but I absolutely think itâÄôs something University students should think about,âÄù Bloomberg said.