What does it take to run an election?

30+ states require specific training for election officials; Pennsylvania doesn’t

  • Emily Previti/PA Post
We’ve seen some personnel changes at county election offices — departures, hires, and the creation of entirely new positions. The changes made us wonder: What are the qualifications, training requirements, etc., of these officials in Pennsylvania and other states? Pa., it turns out, isn’t among 34 states that require training or certification of (typically county-level) elections administrators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. We talked to experts who insist there’s much more to election security than this patchwork of requirements and certification programs. -Emily Previti, reporter
Old voting machine

Emily Previti / PA Post

A decommissioned voting machine spotted at the elections office in Mercer County last fall. (Emily Previti / PA Post)

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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Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice

Emma Lee / WHYY

Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Philadelphia (Emma Lee/WHYY)

  • Philadelphia’s public defenders voted 142-65 to unionize earlier this week. They’ve cited high turnover and unpredictable schedules among their reasons for the move, WHYY’s Ryan Briggs reports. Philly’s public defender system is recognized as one of the best. But there are major inequities among caseloads, pay and quality of representation throughout Pennsylvania — the only state that leaves funding entirely to counties. (For more on that, check out our series on the issue.)

  • A Republican National Committee mailer criticized for its resemblance to census forms is circulating in Bucks and Montgomery counties, KYW News Radio reports. The document first appeared in Pennsylvania in Delco last October and has shown up in other states, too, notes the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

  • Pennsylvania is part of a multi-state lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs alleging the company misled the public by marketing its product as an aid for quitting smoking without making its high nicotine content clear, WHYY’s Laura Benshoff reports. Scranton’s school district also was slapped with a lawsuit for failing to alert staff, students and families hazardous levels of asbestos and lead contamination known to officials for years, according to the Associated Press.

  • State Rep. Seth Grove, a York County Republican, says it’s time for state agencies to follow the law and disclose all contracts. Grove is reacting to a Spotlight PA piece about a $166,000 purchase of guns by the Office of State Inspector General — guns the agency’s employees are not actually allowed to carry in the line of duty. Check out reporter Matt McKinney’s story.

  • If you’re struggling to find Trump campaign paraphernalia, point your car toward Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem, Pa. That’s where you’ll find a kiosk selling plenty of Trump t-shirts, buttons and more. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a fun story about it.

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