The Challenge

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How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone? read the brief

Idea

Community Voter Advocates (Refined): Build on existing social ties to increase election access.

(Update of Community Clerks) Underserved communities already have people who know and work with them, and have developed personal relationships. We should train these people to do voter registration, outreach, and education.
Just as important in the process of voting as when and where, is who.

Underserved communities already have people that work with them.  This would include health workers, teachers, social workers, religious leaders, shopkeepers, or anyone else that is a regular presence for people.  These individuals should be trained as Community Voter Advocates, who would also be able to provide election outreach to those unique individuals and communities they already serve.

Community Voter Advocates would already be very well equipped to work with underserved communities, because they already are doing so.  We would be recruiting people who already know the unique needs of these communities to simply provide support specific to an election.  Most importantly, these Advocates are people who are already trusted in those communities.

The Community Voter Advocates would be trained by election officials so that they are fully informed about the process.  Most likely, the training could take the form of a several hour workshop.  Training for the Advocates focuses on accessibility and all of the rights of voters, and is be more involved than poll workers.  Staffers for the election would also provide additional support to the Advocates in the form of phone, email, or social network access.  The Advocates themselves can meet and form a peer community of their own to share ideas.

Most of the direct role of the Advocate will be to answer questions, provide information related to access, and provide official forms.  The Advocates would be lowering the barriers to registration and voting.

All through the process, these Advocates, who are already trusted individuals with underserved groups, would be able to answer questions and provide support in individualized ways for people.  For people who have not been included in the election process, the Community Clerk would be a trusted individual, unlike someone else, who may be viewed suspiciously.

Some scenarios of Community Voter Advocates in action with the Personas for Concepts.
Tasha's "reader", who is also an Advocate, provides her with all the forms to register to vote, answers her questions, and tells her what to ask for at the polling place.

An employee of the daycare center where Angela takes her daughter tells her all about absentee voting, gives her the paperwork, and watches her daughter while Angela completes the paperwork.  A week before the election date, the Advocate follows up, asking if she has received her ballot, and if she has any questions.

Tyler's dorm RA, a Voter Advocate, keeps him informed about the accessibility options at the campus polling place.

After noticing one of the lay leaders in his local church wearing a pin that says "I'm your Voting Advocate" in his native Mandarin, Minjun mentions how he is excited to participate in his first US election, but is worried about the process and being able to read the ballot.  The lay leader lets him know that it is his constitutional right to materials in their native language, and that the precinct will have voting machines especially for those with vision disabilities.
How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
This idea will build on the existing social fabric of every community. It will utilize that unique experience of people who are already working with these underserved communities. These relationships that are already built on trust and individual sensitivity will be used to also increase awareness and participation in an election.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
This idea would allow individuals who are already aware of the shifting needs of communities that they serve to also adapt election access. Because the heart of this concept is the personal relationships that people already have, as long as those relationships exist, then shifts in the needs of the voter community that the Community Voter Advocates serve would be addressed organically.
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
The biggest resource need would be to train the Community Voter Advocates, and develop resources specifically for them. These costs should be minimal. Additionally, these costs could be offset through grants from get-out-the-vote groups, whose aims dovetail with this concept.

Comments

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Ann Tyler

April 05, 2012, 14:08PM
I think this idea has some great elements but overall would be a little difficult. My first concern would be the willingness of these teachers, social workers, religious leaders, etc. to take on the role of Community Voter Advocates. There would have to be an incentive for them to assume this role. I do believe this would help bring communities even closer together and bring a sense of entitlement and self-worth to their respective inhabitants. However, another concern of mine would be the influence these Community Voter Advocates could have on the process. Obviously these people care about those around them, which is apparent through the line of work they participate in, but this power of influence they could feel from advising large segments of their population could potentially be corruptible by nature. I don't think concern should stop this process from happening but I do think there needs to be certain measures taken, whether it be background checks, interviews, etc. into the people who would be chosen for these Community Voter Advocate positions. Overall, I like the idea a lot and I think it will bring communities even closer together, but I do fear the power these advocates will possess.

Paul Reader

April 09, 2012, 08:56AM
If you have the concern about influence - whether they are "official" advocates or not the opportunity for influence is already there. If anything giving them a 'legal' responsibility to advise impartially about process would actually help. I believe.

Paul Reader

March 28, 2012, 19:34PM
Congratulations Darren - as Singaravelan says this concepts strengthens the community from both perspectives. Will be interested to hear of progress with this concept as realisation is achieved.
I'm sorry this is the first opportunity I have taken to add comments. As with a few other concepts it is applied common sense - something often overlooked in our fast paced technology enhanced world.

Singaravelan T

March 21, 2012, 14:30PM
Darren , this idea of creating community voter advocates is not only helping the elections but also help in building community net within the undeserved people, within the volunteer advocates and between underserved and volunteer advocates. This multiple communities creations will have cascading benefits to people and the government like it will give opportunity between communities to help each others and solve problems which are common and build a resilient society

In-terms of training the voter advocates, flash cards would be one method which is handy and simple on how to teach people. also can have mobile apps that will flash lessons to the voter advocates which they use will training the voters

OpenIDEO

March 15, 2012, 20:33PM
Congrats on this post joining our Top 20 shortlist, Darren! We loved your focus on people, relationships and community networks in this concept.

During this Refinement phase, let's think about what the training materials and experience might be for these community advocates. How can we get them up to speed so that they can help their community members cast a ballot? For more information on specific ways to iterate and update your concept, check http://bit.ly/oi_voterefine and http://www.bit.ly/oi_refine.

Rapudo Hawi

February 28, 2012, 07:29AM
I like the idea; yet it would be critical to develop an clear interlink or point of convergence with all possible community clerks so that information content and message conveyed to the masses carry common agenda. Quite a good project for Kenyans to adapt for 2012 elections

Meena Kadri

February 28, 2012, 05:05AM
Nice use of scenarios to describe you idea, Darren. This really helps folks get a handle on the breadth and scope of what you are suggesting here. Way to go!

Whitney Quesenbery

February 28, 2012, 03:09AM
Darren, I like the way you are thinking about how to strengthen existing community networks and connect them to elections.

Could this also be an opportunity for people within the communities to be "peer-election-counselors"

Darren McNally

February 28, 2012, 03:39AM
Thanks for the support Whitney. Peer Counselors would provide the same information and support to people as my idea, which would definitely open access to the process of elections. I also wanted to provide a way to also break out of the precinct model, and also build on trust relationships. People in disenfranchised communities may feel overwhelmed or distrustful of institutions or people outside their communities, and I wanted to find ways of overcoming that.

Mamta Gautam

March 03, 2012, 20:32PM
Hey Darren, just the first reaction what if these same very advocates are asked to volunteer to be poll workers and look after the special segment. Such advocates could be identified and given basic training to be poll workers as well (for perticlar day or be a part of the team) . Just thinking out loud. The same would avoid chances of influencing, one need not know the person ( in person ) .Having dealt with people with special needs already is a good enough platform to start with.

Anne-Laure Fayard

February 28, 2012, 02:30AM
Interesting way to build upon existing community links. As I was reading your concept, it made me think of another concept http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/bringing-the-experience-to-your-community/which is also focus on mobility and bringing access, although through a specific team rather than already existing relations. There might be connections to develop...

Darren McNally

February 28, 2012, 03:42AM
Thanks for bringing their idea to my attention. Their idea, as well as others I have seen, seek to increase access through breaking down physical barriers. I think that there is a real opportunity to build on existing social connections that hasn't been much addressed.

Anne-Laure Fayard

February 28, 2012, 21:29PM
I agree that using existing social connections and community network is important. I was wondering if there was a way to combine the two types of ideas, or to have these mobile trucks or vans, providing some support to the community clerks.

Darren McNally

February 28, 2012, 21:55PM
I think you're right. The more I'm working on this idea, the more I realize that the community folks are best for advocacy and encouraging participation, but the actual voting should be in a more structured fashion, such as the voting trucks.

Meena Kadri

February 29, 2012, 05:00AM
Indeed – great ideas tend to evolve. As your ideas move forward – feel free to update your actual post at any stage by hitting the Update Entry up there on the right.

Vincent Cheng

February 28, 2012, 00:31AM
Hi Darren. I like how your concept builds on & strengthens existing community relationships to increase voting accessibility.

One watchout will be concerns about vote influencing, though of course this already happens in elections anyways.

Darren McNally

February 28, 2012, 03:34AM
Thanks for the feedback Vincent. I was also worried about vote influencing. I was thinking that the Community Clerks would be better vetted than traditional poll workers and would be trained in what they could - and couldn't do. I'll update the concept to reflect this.

Daniel Castro

February 28, 2012, 14:14PM
Vincent raises an important point and it might be worth thinking about how to address this issue in your concept. For example, sometimes election officials do things in teams to prevent vote fraud, such as when providing some types of assistance at the poll place or when conducting recounts. So, for example, you might require that community clerks go in teams of 2 or 4, with representatives from different political parties.

Darren McNally

February 28, 2012, 21:10PM
Daniel, you make a really important point that this idea does always come down to one person with the ballots of many people, which will have some potential for fraud, no matter how trustworthy that person seems. We could always propose additional security measures, but I don't think that would every fully eliminate the problem.

The problem I see with people being required to be in teams is that I want these to be people who enable voting as part of their regular work with disenfranchised communities. Adding more complexity might make this unfeasible.

I think I might take these points, and those from the other commentaries and refine the idea to be more of an advocate, with less involvement in the actual voting process, to remove some of these sticking points.

If you or any other folks can give me some feedback please let me know.

Daniel Castro

February 28, 2012, 23:17PM
I really like your approach here and I think you are on to something with your advocate approach. As long as the community clerks are not involved in marking the ballot or casting the ballot, there are still many other avenues for them to make an impact and help people vote (e.g. registering to vote, signing up for an absentee ballot, etc.).
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