By Joan Slattery Wall
Board of election officials face escalating demands: Attrition and turnover. Increasingly complex election laws. Wage stagnation. Voting machine and pollbook changes.
“Today, the biggest challenges have been the 2020 election being postponed at the last second and this 2022 primary being up in the air. We have never been this behind in preparing for an election,” said Brian Sleeth, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials (OAEO) and director of the Warren County Board of Elections, adding that it gets harder each year to find poll workers. “Lastly is dealing with all the election misinformation. Our offices are constantly bombarded with records requests or phone calls from voters not believing our election results.”
Seeking to alleviate these challenges, the Ohio Association of Election Officials strengthened its existing professional development program by making substantial investments and enhancing curriculum, said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the association. In 2018, OAEO worked with Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs and Moritz College of Law to create the Ohio Registered Election Official (OREO) program, a one-of-a-kind continuing education and certification program for Ohio’s election officials.
“The partnership between OAEO and Ohio State continues to strengthen and grow, allowing new and innovative classes to be developed,” Ockerman said. “Demand for classes is at an all-time high with new election officials seeking out undergraduate opportunities and graduates of the program requesting expanded upper-level classes.”
Since the first two classes in 2018, over 748 current and former Ohio election officials have taken part in the OREO program, with 297 having received their certificate. Of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections, 78 have participated in at least one class. The course list includes more than a dozen options, covering topics such as voting equipment, ethics, money and politics, and contingency planning, and three graduate level classes for individuals who have received their OREO certification. There have been 2,256 registrations in 22 courses since the program’s inception.
“We have geared the program toward improving skills and staying on the cutting edge of elections administration,” said Faith Lyon, OREO education committee co-chair and director of the Portage County Board of Elections. “Courses are developed to be beneficial for all levels of election administration — director, deputy director, board members and staff. When curriculum is being developed, we make sure each class has an academic and practical focus. The Ohio State instructors focus on election law, statute and election history, while the instructors from our membership discuss how these laws are implemented and applied on a daily basis using real life examples.”
In order to achieve certification, individuals must complete eight, three-hour undergraduate classes. This includes four core courses required of all participants and four elective courses of the students’ choosing. Upon receiving their certificate, students must complete one graduate class every three years to remain current with their certification.
“In each and every class that I have attended, I have always taken ideas back and implemented them,” said Sleeth, who has received his certification. “Talking to your peers is also the highlight of the program. We learn from each other by comparing our experiences.”
“The OREO program is a great way for the Glenn College to share our expertise in public administration with a group of elections officials who are eager to learn and apply knowledge in practical ways,” said Megan Hasting, Glenn College professional development program manager. “We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with this group of public servants who support and uplift the democratic processes that we hold so dear.”
Sleeth and Lyon, who also are certified, said their staff members also take OREO courses.
“Participation in these classes has made us a stronger and more informed team,” Lyon said. “Learning how others accomplish their daily tasks has empowered our team to think out of the box and look for new and innovative solutions to complete our duties.
“Ohio is comprised of several hundred election officials who work tirelessly to conduct elections,” Lyon said, “and without these individuals and their thirst for knowledge and desire for constant improvement, our program would not be half the success that it is today.”