What Does It Take To Run An Election? Pennsylvania Currently Has No Training For Officials

Feb 17, 2020

Steve Ulrich stirred controversy when he took over York County’s elections office on Jan. 10 — just days before a special election — for his left-leaning social media posts and having zero experience running elections.

Pat Nace is retiring after 34 years as elections director for Snyder County, where officials say Nace’s successor must have prior experience.

Amy Cozze just started as elections director in Northampton County, where she’s worked as an aide since 2008. She got the job because the longtime deputy director, who was recently acting director, didn’t want it permanently.

And Dauphin County created a new position to help with the extra work that’s the result of new voting laws passed last fall.

Pa’s elections directors count former journalists, college professors, legislative staffers and accountants among their ranks. They aren’t subject to any hard and fast requirements for the job under state law.

That’s not uncommon, according to Wendy Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Underhill noted the minimal prerequisites for a number of public offices – e.g. many coroners and sheriffs – “even though there’s a very specific skill set.”

She also says not all state-run training programs are created equal, so we shouldn’t assume their mere existence means elections chiefs in those states are better-prepared.

There is one uniform credential, Underhill says — certified elections registration administrator, or CERA. This certificate is managed by the National Association of Election Officials

All that said, it’s misguided to focus solely on election administrators’ qualifications, according to Eddie Perez, global director of technology at the Institute for Open Source Election Technology.

Perez says the trend is toward more training, generally, for elections officials, and engaging IT pros to handle the most technical aspects of cybersecurity as they relate to voting.

But progress is slow and expensive, given the “granular” level of tailoring required to shore up a national election system administered in 8,000 different jurisdictions.

“It’s going to take many, many years,” Perez says. “This isn’t going to be done by 2020.”

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