Guest Editorial

Keara Fenzel | Center for Tech and Civic Life

Ohio's lessons for administering the 2024 elections

As the election season inches closer, our country must invest in our elections infrastructure to ensure that every citizen's voice is heard and their vote is counted accurately. The recent special election in Ohio provided an excellent example of how additional investments in our election system are still needed.
Simply put, resources are often the difference between a smooth, timely election, and one with challenges that impact participation, tabulation and ultimately public trust.
In Ohio, two jurisdictions faced significant challenges. In Cuyahoga Falls, the elections office rolled out new equipment, and due to pinched budgets, poll workers had trouble operating it. This meant that ballots could not be properly fed into scanners and the machines had to be swapped as a mitigating precaution. As one Summit County Board of Elections official clarified, "These machines have not malfunctioned; this has only been happening because of poll workers struggling to learn the new equipment."
Every employee working on this election wanted it to be successful, but without the time and support needed to ensure that the people and the tools are well-prepared, these types of errors occur. It underscores the necessity of investing in comprehensive training programs for poll workers, ensuring they are well-versed in the operation of new equipment. Such training requires financial investment, but its value in preventing potential disruptions and safeguarding the integrity of elections is immeasurable.
Inexperienced poll workers are just the tip of the iceberg; in many cases, inadequate recruitment and salary budgets mean worker shortages. As seasoned poll workers retire, or are otherwise unavailable, new recruits must be rapidly trained to fill their roles. The consequences of inadequately trained personnel can be profound, as evident in Cuyahoga Falls. To prevent such pitfalls, we must allocate the necessary resources to recruit, train, and retain skilled poll workers. A robust and well-supported pool of poll workers is a critical line of defense against unforeseen hiccups on Election Day.
Another lesson emerged in Lawrence County. The consolidation of voting locations inadvertently led to extensive lines at polling places, and there were not enough voting machines to handle the crowd. Because jurisdictions like Lawrence County are operating on tight budgets, they do not have a buffer for changing voter preferences. By investing in additional voting machines and resources, local authorities could have mitigated the challenges posed by unanticipated surges in voter numbers. The goal should be to empower local election officials with the resources they need to nimbly respond to changing circumstances and ensure that every eligible voter can cast their ballot without major delay.
There is a critical – and often overlooked – link between our history of inadequately funding election departments and declining trust in our election process. The errors in smaller jurisdictions like Cuyahoga Falls and Lawrence County are not only logistical hurdles but also threats to the faith citizens place in the democratic system.
As we speak, Congress is writing the budget for the government’s 2024 fiscal year. As part of that, the Senate recently recommended $75 million in federal funding for election departments. It is a start on the path toward full funding.
Ohio's recent experiences serve as a reminder that the success of our elections depends on many factors – human expertise, hard work, technological readiness, and, most importantly, adequate and reliable resource allocation. If we aim for elections that are both error-free and secure, we must be prepared to invest not only financial resources but also time, effort, and dedication. By drawing on the lessons offered by Ohio's recent elections, we can build a future where the voice of every citizen is heard, every vote is counted, and elections build confidence in our process.

Keara Fenzel is the advocacy director for the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that our elections are more professional, inclusive, and secure.


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