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‘Making Our Democracy Work’

National Election Officials Converge at UMD to Discuss Serving Voters, Election Integrity

By Annie Krakower

panelists speak on stage at 2024 Elections Summit

From left, U.S. Election Assistance Commission Vice Chair Ben Hovland, Washington Secretary Steve Hobbs, D.C. Board of Elections Executive Director Monica Evans, Weld County, Colo. Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes, and Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement Chief Strategist Sam Novey speak during the Serving All Voters panel on Tuesday at the 2024 Elections Summit, hosted at the University of Maryland.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Like many Marylanders, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer ’63 was disappointed with the result of Sunday’s AFC championship game, which sent the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl and the Baltimore Ravens to their couches to watch it. But he trusted the integrity of the game, and accepted the final score.

Speaking at Tuesday’s 2024 Elections Summit at the University of Maryland, Hoyer stressed the importance of preserving a similar faith in the credibility of elections this presidential election year—and that begins with local election administrators. The issue takes on added urgency almost four years after then-President Donald Trump made unfounded claims of election fraud and pressured a Georgia election official to “find” votes.

The event, hosted by UMD’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement (CDCE) and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), brought together officials from across the country, lawmakers and members of the campus community to discuss serving voters, election security and other challenges.

“I see universities like ours, the University of Maryland, and higher education in general as one of your partners,” UMD President Darryll J. Pines told attendees at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. “Nonpartisan and bipartisan voting efforts are as important as getting students to show up to class and study. We are charged with educating and developing leaders and citizens, and it’s a responsibility that I really take very seriously.”

Speakers at the summit, held on Help America Vote Day, included secretaries of state from Washington and Rhode Island, county clerks and election administrators from several other states as well. The EAC, a bipartisan group that strives to improve election administration and remove barriers to voting, convened those “election heroes,” said CDCE Chief Strategist Sam Novey, who are “making our democracy work.”

Novey, who also serves as secretary of the Baltimore City Board of Elections, joined officials from Washington state, Washington, D.C. and Colorado on a panel to discuss engaging sometimes hard-to-reach populations, such as people who frequently move or who have disabilities, members of the military and students. Meeting those voters where they are, whether that’s at farmers markets, senior centers or schools, is a significant step, they said.

“Having a structured way for election offices to engage with civil society and mobilize civil society to create a culture where everyone feels included and to create trusted messengers to reach different populations, that is incredibly important,” Novey told the panel. “It’s a sort of different lane of work than mailing out the ballots and counting them correctly, but it’s just as important.”

Michael Hanmer, CDCE director and a professor of government and politics at UMD, delved into one way to serve voters: using sports stadiums as polling places, like the Xfinity Center in 2020 and this year. His team’s research from the last presidential election found broad nonpartisan support for the strategy, with the large spaces acting as especially convenient voting locations for those who live nearby. Outreach about using the Terps’ and other teams’ competition spaces for voting is crucial to boost participation, he said.

“These (teams) are parts of the communities,” he said. “We can use that celebrity to get people interested and engaged and informed.”

Other panels at the summit covered effective communications about elections and challenges that new election officials face.

“It’s great to have this on a college campus, and ours in particular, just because this is a critically important election,” Hanmer said in an interview. “It seems like each one is becoming more and more important, and the types of issues that are coming up are new and different all the time.”

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