A group of Doane College students needed a senior seminar project this fall.
The Lancaster County Election Commission needed a way to reach more potential voters, especially those who rely on social media for news.
By working together, the election commission will be able to Tweet its election results Nov. 6 and share information through Facebook.
And the four Doane students finishing up degrees in public administration have gained a front-line look at life in public service.
“Even if we reached a handful of people we hadn’t reached before this was a good start. After the students are done we’ll continue this project and it will grow,” Lancaster County Election Commissioner David Shively said.
Kerry Fina, an advisor and adjunct professor at Doane’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies in Lincoln, planted the seed of the idea. The students are preparing for possible careers in public service and non-profit organizations. Senior seminars are the time for students to demonstrate what they have learned and apply it in a meaningful manner.
Their term of study happens to fall in a Presidential Election year. The election commission offers a unique opportunity to observe a mix of government and public service. (The commission is responsible for all federal, state and local elections within Lancaster County; they maintain the registered voter database, recruit and train more than 1,000 poll workers for each election, locate polling sites for 198 voting precincts and more.)
The project began in August. The students became deputy registrars and hosted three voter-registration drives on Doane’s Lincoln campus. They refreshed training presentations for poll workers and helped set up Twitter and Facebook accounts, researching and posting daily to both. Social media gives the commission a place to share formal information: what deadlines are approaching or the last day to request an absentee ballot. But it also provides a place to post friendly messages about how there are four presidential candidates on the ballot this year – even if most people only know of two – or to tell voters how they can combine grocery shopping and voter registration.
On election day, student will tweet, post and lend a hand in the election commission office.
“They’ll experience the excitement first hand,” Shively said.
After the election, students will continue to develop online training and renewal programs for deputy registrars, the teams who register people to vote outside of the election commission office.
“The Doane students were great. They had good questions and good ideas,” Shively said. On the flip side, he hopes the time working with his office gave them knowledge they can use in their field.
It did, according to Aishah Witte of Lincoln, who will earn her degree in public administration in 2013. “We learned that a tremendous amount of work goes into making sure that an election runs smoothly year round.”
They also got a glimpse of what the office handles on their less conspicuous days of the year, such as elections for offices like the Sanitary Improvement District or the election commission’s role in jury selection.
State and local government fascinate her, Witte said, even its inner workings “the not so glamorous things that keep us safe and happy.”
“The work done at these levels of government by really dedicated folks impacts almost all aspects of our daily lives and is in my opinion under appreciated."
** Other students who worked on the project are Jessica Davis, Michael Fowler and Danielle Stahlnecker.