Election Associations: An Alternate Means of Promoting the Development of Election Professionals
As with any other profession, electoral officials form a distinct corps of public administrators tasked with a very specific goal - the carrying out of elections. From this assessment comes a natural interest in developing ties with other individuals or associations who face similar challenges - to learn, exchange, and develop programs which bring a mutually beneficial interaction. This article will first present an overview of the importance of election associations, their role and objectives, and then present specific steps which can lead to their creation.
The development of a professional corps of election administrators is accomplished through experience, training, and exchanges. In this respect, just as accountants, attorneys, or plumbers have their own societies and associations, election administrators form a distinct group of public servants with specific needs. The purpose of establishing an association of election officials is to provide a mechanism through which election officials can exchange ideas and experiences and learn about tested management and training techniques. An association can pool resources, facilitate training programs, and promote horizontal educational interaction between members of electoral bodies. Such an interaction enhances the ability of election officials to perform their duties so as to be able to exercise their public trust with the highest degree of expertise. Associations can save the public treasury funds, as methods to share and reduce costs are discussed and debated at seminars which highlight the financial aspects of election administration. Finally, another important role of an association is to give members the opportunity to express themselves and to develop a consensus to propose and promote legal and regulatory reforms in the electoral process.
Associations, just like election authorities, work at various levels. On the international level, election administrators from national election boards have found it useful to meet periodically to review current trends, experiences, and share ideas on election administration. For example, the Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials (ACEEEO), initiated in 1991, brings together the heads of election administrations from over a dozen countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as their counterparts from Western Europe and North America. Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Alexander Ivanchenko is a Board Member of the Association. In fact, the ACEEEO is holding its annual conference in Vilnius, Lithuania the last week of November. You can visit the web site of the association at www.ifes.org/ to find out more information about its activities. Similar professional regional administrations exist in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas (www.capel.org).
At the local level, organizations exist which fulfil a similar need, based on the particularities of the challenges appropriate to the level of those election commission members. Let's examine one of the largest groups of local election administrators within one association, which is based in the United States of America. One thousand five hundred people are members of the «International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers»(IACREOT). It was founded in 1971 to... «fill the need for a professional, nonprofit organization which would:
Provide a forum through which county officials can engage in the full, frank, free exchange of information;
Improve standards of operation that will best serve the public;
Encourage the passage of uniform laws governing the operation of county offices;
Speak with a unified voice on matters of importance to county officials;
Exemplify what is best in public service;
Foster positive relations with legislators and business and community groups;
Cultivate friendships with men and women holding similar offices around the world.
Do these objectives have apply to you and your election office?
IACREOT is one of the most successful organizations of its type because it provides real, concentrated support to its members engaged in the four basic areas of governmental endeavor at the local level: financial operations, clerking (Translator: a clerk is a keeper of public records) election administration, and recording (Translator: a recorder is a registrar of public records). The association holds yearly conventions, board meetings, and has a quarterly publication which enables IACREOT to act as a valuable source of expertise in the operation of public offices at the local level on a sustained, continuing basis. Each annual conference is organized around a different timely theme, and members value the opportunity to increase their capacity for handling day-to-day operations, legislation and lobbying, upgrading and standardization of techniques, equipment and procedures, and short and long-range planning. Between conferences, the IACREOT NEWS keeps members abreast of developments in their respective fields.
Furthermore, an important function of the association involves the informal benefits it brings to its members. A past president states that « equally valuable, IACREOT provides an informal structure for accomplishing its objectives. Although it is impossible to quantify the benefits of the social give-and-take and the good-natured politicking among members, it is clear that problem-solving and trouble-shooting skills are increased by access to the ready advice and support of friends and colleagues who have successfully dealt with similar situations.» (Visit www.iacreot.com.
You will find similar organizations of various size for local level administrators in the United States (www.NASED.org, Russia (Volga Region Association of Election Commissions of Subjects of the Russian Federation), Canada (The Canadian Association of Election Officials, CAEO), Great Britain (The British Association of Electoral Administrators, AEA, with 800 members), or at the state level in the U.S., such as in Florida or Texas. A complete list of addresses and contact information is available on demand.
The challenges and rewards of establishing a professional association.
Establishing a professional association of election officials, in Russia or abroad, takes leadership. Someone or some group will have to take charge or be provided hands-on guidance to establish an organization. While there may be considerable work involved in the mechanics of bringing a group of people together for a common purpose, the rewards can be enormous. The interaction of professionals sharing a common goal and striving to improve their skills will provide the opportunity for personal growth. As new management and election techniques are shared and learned, improvements to the administration of the election process in the Russian Federation will be made. These positive changes will lead to a greater confidence in the election system by the citizens of the Russian Federation and further the democratic process for all.
Organizing an association is not as difficult as it may seem if you take the time to carefully plan what you need to do. This association can be started by one person who is willing to put in a lot of time and effort. The chances of success improve if more people, who are dedicated and sincerely interested, are involved in the implementation process. Since the overall goal is to bring people together for a common purpose, it would be wise to start with a core group of determined and reputable people to develop this association. The leadership of the Subject Electoral Commissions, such as the Chairman, Deputy and Secretary are likely officials to be contacted first to include in any planning meeting. For the first meeting, you may want to do the following:
1. Write out your objectives: write out simple objectives you wish to establish for the association, for example: strengthen professionalism, build public confidence, exchange ideas and information, cooperate to save costs. Keep the objectives simple and achievable.
2. Have your first planning meeting: Bring together a group of like-minded election officials. Have a brain-storming meeting of the group to plan for the first meeting of the new association. If a face-to-face meeting is not possible then meet by telephone or even e-mail, if that is an option.
3. Establish Officers: Any organization needs to have a formal structure to function. By selecting a leadership team the association can facilitate growth and development and the achievement of goals. In the beginning, officers should be selected by the initial group of people who are establishing the association for the first time. Subsequently, all officers are elected by all members of the association at an annual meeting.
4. Select the topic for the first conference: Your first official association meeting is very important. You want it to be a success. There are many good ideas for topics for seminars that can be discussed at your meeting. Survey your prospective members and ash them what they might be interested in. Give them choices and allow them to show their preferences. Arrange the conference to their needs.
5. Legal aspects of an association: All formal associations and organizations have a set of written procedures that are used to conduct business. These rules help establish order and promote the professional aspect of the association. Every member of the association should receive the Charter and any formal procedures adopted by the association.
Should you decide to create an association in Russia, there is a wide range of topics which can be addressed, from training to the selection of Territorial Election Commission members, in order to complement existing resources and add to the pool of skills available. A sample of topics includes the development of a professional office, ballot security, the certification of candidates on the ballot, ethics and elections, a review of the 1996 Presidential election and the preparations for the next Federal election cycle, encouraging voter participation, adjudication of grievances, campaign finance, the role of media in elections, and voting in remote areas, to name a few issues.
The creation of a regional association should be mindful of existing resources available and of the expertise available within other bodies of state power, such as the Central Election Commission. It is important that there be no misunderstanding with anyone regarding the goals and objectives of your association; in this respect, acting transparently throughout the creation and existence of an association will eliminate any difficulties. The International Foundation for Election Systems is available to provide documentation and research services to the people which may be interested in finding out more about electoral associations. While the Foundation is not in a position to offer any type of financial support, we can direct you to specific programs which may assist on a small scale with the development of the association once it is legally set-up. In the meantime, we invite you to visit the web addresses mentioned above or to contact us should you need further information.