The Art of Electioneering in USA; The Colorado Experience

On the 1st of November, the Connected Development [CODE] delegate for the United State of American election observation left for Nigeria for Denver, Colorado which I was part of.

The mission was sponsored by International Institute of Education (IIE) through a recommendation from Ford Foundation for the sole aim of using the experience to influence the Electoral Reform of the Country which was ongoing by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by making a recommendation about what was observed in the USA.

Colorado was chosen by our delegate due to the fact that the state is one of the 3 frontline states in the USA  using an All Mail Ballot System of voting which is an entirely new concept to our Democracy and Governance Unit.  CODE delegates arrived Denver on the 2nd of November by 05:30pm while still awed by the long travel and the ambience that was called the American dream.  

State of Colorado
From right, Colorado Secretary of State, Emmanuel Njoku, Tunde Adegoke and the Director of Election, Judd Choate

We met with the Secretary of State (SoS) of Colorado  on Thursday November 3rd to have a briefing Judd Choate, the Director of Election for the State and he walked us through all the processes of election in the state and took his time to answer all of our questions regarding elections  in the state of Colorado.

Planning is a very important part of the election in Colorado as the process is well thought of and every concern and loopholes were well solved even before the election as for them, it is more of everyday work to make sure all votes counts and all voices are heard in the state as there processes are grouped into 5 main parts discussed below.

After the meeting with the Judd, he gave us a letter which we are to present at any of the Election Division offices we wish to observe in, he later describes where the Denver Election Division office is in which we head straight to.

On reaching the office, we are asked to register first and we are introduced to the Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division in the person of Alton P. Dillard II, he took us through all the offices and explained all the processes to us.

The Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division, Alton Dillard II, taking our team on a tour of the Election Division Office
The Senior Public Information Officer of Denver Election Division, Alton Dillard II, taking our team on a tour of the Election Division Office

It is to be noted that Colorado started early voting even before we arrived the State, that made us witness the process of sorting, verification, tabulation and counting of the ballots as it is a continuous process.

The election division office who handle the election in Denver County has 5 processes which are;

  • Ballot Receiving: This is where the ballot is received by the election officers who went to the field to collect the ballots from the drop off points which Denver has 26 of and the workers comprises of 1 democrats, 1 republican and 1 non-party affiliates who are all paired together to take the ballots from the drop off points and the mailboxes in the county. It is to be noted here that the election division recruited the workers in which most of them have been working with the election division offices before. The team is paired for the purposes of transparency in the election process. This is not a practice common to only Denver election division but that is how it is being done in other counties too.
  • Ballot Verification: This is the next unit after the receiving room, they take care of the verification of ballots before it moves to the next stage and just like the first point (1), the workers here too are paired together too for transparency sake. This room has a bigger machine which takes care of the verification and it also contains workers who do some few manual verifications which the machine could not do. It is also to be of note here that what is being verified is the voters signature which was compared to what they have in the database of the election register database of the voters.
  • Ballot Preparation Room: This is the 3rd stage which the ballot passed through and there are more than 4 machines here and just as all other steps, there are also paired together and there is little human works here too.
  • Counting Room: This room is two in one as it also contains the Counting Room and the Tabulation room which is the last stage, this is where the ballot are being counted and it also contains some computers which take care of counting the results of the ballots. Here, there is a manual which was developed by the electoral team which helps them to reduce void votes to its barest minimum, if a ballot could not pass through this stage, then the voters can be called on to recast his or her votes. It is to be of note that all the systems in this room are hacker proof that none of the workstations is connected to the internet and perhaps an external device is connected to any of it, the whole workstations shut down immediately so as to repel any external system extrusion. The data was generated while counting is transferred to the next room which is why the room is a section of counting room.
  • The Tabulation Room: This room is only but a little part of the counting room and it is where the result come out as it is the last room which is where the result is being announced. The computers here get their feeds from the counting systems.

It is to be noted here that the ballots are being batched and sealed in each room before it moves to the next room and also, there is a copy physical copy of every electronic record so as to have a backup in case there is system breakdown in any of the processes. Also, each truck which are responsible for picking the ballots in each drop off points are being secured using cameras and there is also a security personnel in charge of it.

The fun fact here is that the database of the electoral board takes care of all the pressure and also the period of 21 days to vote makes it all simple to vote in Colorado.

The Registration Procedure:

The Colorado Secretary of State SoS office takes care of the election office as he is the one who hired the director of election and there is a plan in place which the SoS told our team that his aim is to make sure all that who are of election age all registered and get to vote during the election. They made the registration so seamless that the voters can register at their convenience online or at any designated voting centers across the state. You can register to vote in Denver County and vote in El Paso County. That makes it so easy to vote and made the aims of the office to come to fruition.

With only an ID, one who is of voters age can register and registration continues till the election day.

The Luncheon in Penrose House:

State of Colorado
Group picture of African Observers meeting with the El Pomar Foundation

Our Team was invited to a luncheon to Penrose House by the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs (El-Paso County) through the SoS office which was attended on the eve of the election day (7th of November). We met with the Chairman of the Board of the foundation with some of their team as well as some youths from Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa who all came to observe the election through a sponsorship by the foundation.

The event was fun and educative as I learned about giving back to one’s community and also get to meet with vibrant youths from other African countries too.

Just after we were addressed by the chairman, the secretary of state also address us too and also answered questions from us all and  briefed us about what their expectations were on the election day which is the next day. “We are expecting less than 700,000 voters tomorrow as we already have more than 2.5m votes who voted in the early voting period” confirmed the SoS.

After the event, we went straight to the El Paso County Election Division to see how things are being done too but we could not wait much as we have to catch a regional bus going back to Denver which we eventually missed and we have to take a Grey Hound back.

The Election Day

Election Day
A Voter Dropping his Ballot at the Drop Off point in Denver Election Division Office on the Election Day

Due to the experience back home, I was expecting to see the crowd on queues on this day. The crowd who came to vote, but how wrong was as the day was just like a typical day in Denver. It does not even look like there was any election holding as all were calm, no security forces everywhere, no queues, no touts and other vices that came with the election in Nigeria and other African countries. The Denver election division is open to media as they have a dedicated place for the media to plug their gadgets and cover the event live. We were told that media transparency is part of the processes of the election in Colorado and we are all given access to witness all the events as they unfold.

Election Day in Nigeria
Election Day in Nigeria

Despite the long 20 days already given to voters, some prefer to come to the division office to cast their votes which we all witnessed as they come in to do their voting.

Languages

Election and Instruction Materials are in 2 Languages - English and Spanish
Election and Instruction Materials are in 2 Languages – English and Spanish

The election materials are in both Spanish and English as they made sure that the two most popular languages in the state are captured and their votes counted. I was thinking out loud that why wouldn’t we have our election materials domesticated to our languages in Nigeria, and the thought of user-centered election material production came to mind. Well, maybe that could be future plans was what I finally concluded on.

Observations:

  1. During the 2015 general election in Nigeria, it was all observed by the media in the country that the APC presidential candidates in person of Muhammed Buhari was being blackmailed and so much of hate publicity were leveled against him, and funnily – the same thing happened in the USA, the media was doing a wonderful work by painting the GOP candidate in person of Donald Trump black and so much hate publicity was also leveled against him. Some of his past words and actions were used against him and they kept on amplifying it on the media and that alone gave me so many concerns as I did understand that there is nothing as such a bad publicity.
  2. On arriving at the airport, the first guy we spoke with said “we do not know how both of them get the ticket to run for the election, you guys can take them both to Nigeria while going back as we don’t want them” also the guy who took us on Uber ride to Colorado springs said almost the same thing which was “both of them are disasters, I think Hilary is not real – she is fake and I just do not understand how she and Trump got the ticket, it seems we are all sleeping when they are doing their nominations for the party”

Opinions:

Just like in Nigeria election in 2015, the media made Buhari the winner as they kept on blowing his trumpet for him and as such the media made Trump the winner in USA election too. There is nothing as bad publicity they say, the more the media keep on mentioning his name, the more his message keeps sticking to the  subconscious mind of the voters and the more their brain is programmed with his name. As such, the will unconsciously vote for him and that was what happened as the decision process of who to vote for comes easily to them as what they have been hearing all along is Trump.

Recommendations:

  1. The database is a very important component of the Colorado Election process as it acted as a shock absorber for all the election processes. And it aids the proper planning for them. INEC should work with JAMB, Banks (BVN) and other agencies who all have a  functional database to populate their own database and add more which they are not having to complete database of their own.
  2. Every county have their election division which is responsible for the election in their locality, the INEC should look to empowering all local government in Nigeria to be able to man their election themselves and INEC functions should be regionalised so as to create a hierarchical operating procedure for INEC so that the pressure would not always be in the Central office.
  3. The election is taken place in 21 days in the USA, INEC should try and be dynamic when it comes to election and stop trying to achieve everything in a day like it is being done. This will give all and sundry the time to cast their votes.
  4. Blue Book is produced by the Colorado Election Office which is a book which introduces all the candidates contesting the election. INEC should take the responsibility of publishing a book which will be introducing all the contestant which will inform the voters more about who they are to vote for.
  5. Election materials are domesticated in 2 languages in Colorado, INEC should make a pact or agreement with all other sectional offices who will domesticate the election materials to the languages of the people as they are the ones who will be voting.
  6. In terms of election education, more should be done to educate the voters so the process will be a more demystified one.
  7. Planning is a very important part of every election, each state should be responsible for voting activities in their individual state and state electoral laws should be encouraged in Nigeria so we can have a more transparent election.
  8. Ease of registration is very important, registrations should be placed in the people’s hand and locations and electors should not be limited by their polling units, everyone who registered in the same state should be able to vote in any polling units in the state.

The election  ended by 7pm on the 8th of November and the abstract voting results was called out by 9th which is not the official result as the united State of America has a rule that the canvas is the time which the election result will be made known to the public in which the canvas is to hold on 24th of November where all the election directors all come together to announce the election statistic in their individual divisions and the winner is not known until after the Electoral college vote which is usually by the party electoral college voters in each state depending on which party won which state.

Like in Colorado, there are 9 electoral colleges (EC) votes, Democrats won in Colorado and that implies that 9 EC is for democrats, and the representative of the democrats will be the one to vote in the electoral college vote come December. There are 538 EC votes in the whole USA, the candidates with 270 won the election which is usually being conducted after the general election.

The experience was a once in a lifetime event, and I am so grateful to all who made it possible, from the Secretary of State, the IRI, the Fords Foundations and the IIE. Without their support, this mission would have been a success.

We have started working on sharing the experiences we learned while observing the election and more posts will be published as a follow-up to this.

Nigeria Election Day Image Credit: Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima

Earlier Post on The Exercise is Here