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A Referendum on Citizen Engagement

News Type Public Address

(from left) Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials; Brian Sleeth, director of the Warren County Board of Elections; and Faith Lyon, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, discuss challenges facing election officials and poll workers. 

By Joan Slattery Wall

If we filled Ohio Stadium with election officials and poll workers more than 10 times, we still might not have enough people to handle the administration of this fall’s presidential election. 

All told there are more than 10,000 election administration jurisdictions in the U.S., according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All of those need elections board members and directors and employees to run the election offices. 

“The size of these jurisdictions varies dramatically, with the smallest towns having fewer than a thousand registered voters and the largest jurisdiction in the country, Los Angeles County, with more than 5.5 million,” according to the conference. 

A Noble Calling

See how dedicated public servants from the Glenn College pave a smoother road to Election Day each year.

In addition, the conference reports, 642,419 poll workers helped in-person voters in 2022. The number is expected to jump by an estimated 150,000 for this year’s presidential election. 

In 2024, it is vitally important that U.S. citizens both engage in and understand the mechanics of our democratic process, said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.

“Many people take it for granted that our democracy will carry on forever, but in truth, our democracy is only as good as the people who administer and participate in it,” said Ockerman. “As foreign and domestic actors seek to undermine our democracy through mis- and disinformation, an informed electorate is crucial to ensuring that the core democratic values of our country are preserved.” 

Building an Elections Workforce

Ockerman and Megan Hasting, program manager for professional development at the Glenn College, are members of the Election Workforce Advisory Council, formed last fall by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, and The Elections Group, an elections consulting partnership. 

Podcast: Recruiting, Retaining Employees When the Going Gets Tough

Ohio election officials face increasing challenges in balancing integrity and access, made even harder by technology developments, shifts in legal dynamics and strong skepticism — all resulting in a staff turnover of 10% to 15% per year. Aaron Ockerman, president of Ockerman Consulting and executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, explains how election leaders address recruitment and retention. 

They will share the success of the Ohio Registered Election Officials (OREO) program put on by the Ohio Association of Election Officials and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

Since 2018, more than 337 election officials have graduated from the OREO program, with 78 of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections participating. 

“The Election Workforce Advisory Council is looking at securing a better talent pipeline for elections administration and improving job performance and workforce retention. We know that a key indicator of positive workforce retention policy is access to professional development and continuing education. The elections administration workforce is one that we overlook, and they are fundamental to how we function in society, so it’s important that we support that with some concrete strategies to share,” said Hasting, who ran the OREO program the last three years.  

“The Ohio Registered Election Official program is one of only a handful in the country that partners with institutions of higher education, and as such, serves as a model for other states who want to offer meaningful continuing education opportunities to their election officials,” Ockerman said. 

Advocating for Election Reform

Tonya Wichman, Defiance (Ohio) County director of elections

Tonya Wichman, Defiance (Ohio) County director of elections and a certificate recipient and former instructor in the Ohio Registered Election Officials program, serves on the legislative committee of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials.  

She also is a member of a campaign to strengthen U.S. elections called Faces of Democracy, a project of Issue One, a cross-partisan political reform group in Washington, D.C.  

“In June we met with legislators in D.C. to encourage stable funding of elections and protection of election officials and their teams,” Wichman said. “We even had the chance to meet with the White House staff to explain our jobs and requests. We participate in roundtable discussions with legislators and do interviews with podcasts and newspapers.”

Encouraging Youth Engagement

Chad Seeberg, Glenn College MA, public policy and administration, 2002

Local and national programs educate young adults about the election process and find ways to involve them on Election Day. 

“Our local board’s done a really good job working with schools to get younger adults as poll workers, partially because they are more tech savvy,” said Chad Seeberg, MA, public policy and administration, 2002, who has volunteered for the Union County (Ohio) Board of Elections for almost 20 years. 

The Ohio Secretary of State “Youth at the Booth” initiative helps get high school students engaged in our elections process while earning extra cash and volunteer hours, said Ockerman, and Kids Voting Ohio, an affiliate of Kids Voting USA, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that serves Ohio schools through voter education and preparedness, promoting civic engagement and increased family and community communication about citizenship. 

“Ohio law allows us to utilize 17- and 18-year-old high school students to work the polls. Not only does this provide a valuable pool of individuals to work on Election Day, but it also educates young Ohioans about democracy and the democratic process,” Ockerman said. “Anything we can do to involve Americans in our democratic process at a young age is a worthwhile endeavor and will lead to a more engaged electorate in the future.” 

“I wish more people would get involved versus Monday-morning quarterbacking things,” Seeberg said. “In an ideal world, Election Day would be a national holiday. Even if Buckeye alumni could dedicate one day to that like they do a Big Ten championship or bowl game, you could get a lot more people involved.” 


Read the latest edition of Public Address, the Glenn College magazine.