[Image courtesy of spike]

Last week, election officials from across the nation were in Washington, DC for the annual Joint Election Officials Liaison Committee (JEOLC) sponsored by the Election Center. There, attendees heard from Congressional staff ad other federal policymakers about coming attractions in the field of elections and had an opportunity to discuss with one another the best ways to cope with the continually changing environment affecting elections administration.

One attendee was Contra Costa’s Scott Konopasek – he of the “Election Guru” blog. True to form, he penned an excellent blog post late last week that you should see if you haven’t already:

Of all the professional meetings held throughout the year by the election profession, [JEOLC] is the most substantive and useful. The networking which occurs among officials from across the country and with others with election related interests is one of the great benefits of the meetings. Despite differing structures, laws, terminologies and sensitivities, the issues and challenges faced by election officials are very similar if not identical.

Typically the topics discussed are voting systems, money and resources, technology, postal regulations, civil rights enforcement, census as well as any proposed legislation. During the first session, attendees are asked what issues are of particular interests for discussion during the multi-day conference. In this morning’s meeting, the issues were not solely the typical reiteration of the usual topics but no clear theme emerged until, Alysoun McLaughlin, the Deputy Director of Elections in Montgomery County, MD, articulated one.

She proposed that we discuss internal processes for effectively managing technology and election processes instead of merely its acquisition. That theme was picked up and added to as others cited her recent piece [blogged here!] and spoke to the need of using language and terminology that is meaningful for those observing the the elections process.

This theme echoes much of what I have been proposing in this blog- there is a need for the profession to focus on management skills and professional practices -themes which appeal to some but not to many in the profession. Technical subjects- voting machines, pollworkers, lawsuits, budgets, registration- dominate our discussions while “soft” subjects- leadership, management, performance management, staff development, etc are seldom addressed.

What is the discussion to address the issues Alysoun has raised? Individual voices calling for the introduction of “soft” practices such as Lean quality management practices and administrative reforms are like voices in the wilderness. How can the profession embrace a culture of continuous improvement? How can we leave behind the critical issues of 1999 and more effectively address the issues of 2014?

I am increasingly beginning to believe that those of us who have been in the profession for years and the institutions we have created and which we lead are not best situated or equipped to address present future 21st century election administration issues. It is promising to see the post-boomer generation move into leadership roles, create new institutions and ask the questions that haven’t been asked nearly enough.

This is a really nice summary of the challenges – both managerial and generational – that face the field. Thanks to Scott for sharing and for all of you for your continued work in bringing election administration into the 21st Century!