Elections administration. Brianna Lennon, County Clerk for Boone County, Missouri and Co-Host of High Turnout Wide Margins, joined the podcast to talk about the work of County Clerks and what it takes to administer elections. She shared how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted elections, the experience of running the 2020 election, and engaging with the public. She also discussed her career path and how she thinks elections administration will change.
Host: Alyssa Dinberg
Alyssa Dinberg 00:00
All right, well let’s get started. Coming to you from Denver, Colorado, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, The Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. Today’s Gov love episode is brought to you by Granicus. Short term rentals or STRs are found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Their numbers are growing at a staggering rate and 1000s of communities across North America. What does this mean for government? It’s time to act. STRs can be a tremendous source of revenue for local governments or real community nuisance. It all depends on adopting the right Compliance and Enforcement strategy. To date, over 350 communities have partnered with Granicus on their STR compliance programs for everything from address and host identification to ordinance consulting and permanent tools. Interested in learning more about the STR market in your community, and how Granicus can help? Visit granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information. I’m Alyssa Dinberg, the COVID-19 Recovery Coordinator for Clear Creek County and today I’m joined by Brianna Lennon, elected County Clerk in Boone County, Missouri. Brianna, welcome to Gov love.
Brianna Lennon 01:28
Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Alyssa Dinberg 01:30
Yeah, we’re super excited to have you, you brought this idea to us. And so this, this shows the power of our amazing listeners and members of ELGL bringing fantastic ideas to us. So thank you so much for that.
Brianna Lennon 01:44
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of the podcast and have really enjoyed being a member of ELGL. So I’m glad that there’s such a good space for people that are interested in local elections administration to get together and talk about the profession.
Alyssa Dinberg 02:00
Yeah, absolutely. Well, today we’re going to talk about the role of elected county clerks and how COVID-19 has impacted everything from elections administration to public engagement. But before we get started with our interview, let’s start with one of our signature lightning rounds. Are you ready?
Brianna Lennon 02:18
I am ready.
Alyssa Dinberg 02:20
Okay, so if you had an extra hour of free time every day, how would you use it?
Brianna Lennon 02:28
I would probably sleep. I know that’s not a great answer. But I really enjoy sleeping and with two young kids, I, that’s what I would prefer to do.
Alyssa Dinberg 02:37
No, I think that’s a great answer. I think a lot of parents out there probably agree with that. So if you could give yourself advice, or if you could give your 21 year old self advice, what would you say?
Brianna Lennon 02:51
Probably that it’s not as important to have a five or a 10 year plan as you think that it is. At 21, I was deciding whether I wanted to go into law, or whether I wanted to go into a policy shop or what really I wanted to do with my life. And I felt a lot of pressure to make that decision so that I could have you know, like a robust five year plan because I wouldn’t be successful if I didn’t have one. And you know, pretty much since I’ve had my first job, everything has just been go with the flow. And you can you can make some plans, you can make some general ideas for what you want to work on and goals for yourself. But it’s incredibly hard and not worth it to try to map out every single decision of a five or 10 year plan.
Alyssa Dinberg 03:42
I think that’s really good advice. I am much older than 21 and I continuously have to remind myself that so I think that’s very good advice for anybody regardless of what age they are. So because I haven’t been on a vacation in a while, this question is something that I’m super interested in hearing from other people, because I’m just sitting here daydreaming all the time. What was your dream vacation be like if money were not an issue?
Brianna Lennon 04:12
Oh, that is a good one. Because I haven’t been on one in a long time either. I really like water, anything with water would be great. I don’t like it to be too hot. So I like to be more, you know, visually looking at water. We went to Portugal A few years ago, and that was really beautiful. It was too cold for me to want to go swimming. But it was really nice to just be close to the water. So anything with a nice view of the ocean or a gulf. I am there.
Alyssa Dinberg 04:41
I agree with you. I went to Portugal after grad school, actually, I guess it was during grad school. It was part of a class and it’s a gorgeous place but the water was freezing. We did not go in either. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to get back when it’s warm. And then my last question This is something I asked on every episode. If you could be a vegetable, what vegetable would you be and why?
Brianna Lennon 05:12
I feel something in me is saying carrot. I don’t know why I feel like it’s just a really versatile vegetable. That can be, you know, made into a whole bunch of different things. And it’s flexible, but it also has a bunch of nutrients in it. I don’t know, I, that’s a really tough question.
Alyssa Dinberg 05:38
No, I love that answer. The one of the reasons I asked this because everybody answers it completely different. And I just everyone is so creative with it. When I started asking it, I never anticipated the answers to be so incredibly well thought out and creative. And every single person I’ve interviewed has had a very well thought and well thought out answer.
Brianna Lennon 06:01
I wish I could say that I was like a more unique vegetable or something like that. But carrots just seemed like a good mainstay.
Alyssa Dinberg 06:07
No, I think carrots a very good answer. And they are very, very versatile. You are right on that. All right, so before we begin, I have some exciting news, tickets for our ELGL pop ups are on sale soon. ELGL pop ups are our approach to regional conferences, and this year, they’re hosted virtually on May 21st 2021. These events are a great way to learn more about the regional local government topics. Tickets are $10 for students $40 for one person, and $80 for an all access pass to attend any of the region’s sessions. We also have volume discounts if you want to sign up for your whole team. So visit ELGLpopups.com to save your spot. I hope to see you there. All right, so let’s get started. I’m really curious to know how long you’ve been a county clerk? And what did you do prior to becoming a clerk?
Brianna Lennon 07:06
Yeah, so I have been a county clerk, I was elected in 2018. So I was sworn in the last day of 2018. So I’ve been serving since January of 2019. And before that, I I’ve done various things. The thing that I enjoyed the most that led me to running for county clerk was working in the Missouri Secretary of State’s office. I worked as the deputy director of elections and the elections Council for that department within the Secretary of State’s office. And it was just a really great experience. I got to work with the elected county clerks across the state, Missouri has 116 different local election authorities. And it was a really good way to see the nuts and bolts of elections administration, but also the challenges that the local level faced when policies were enacted at the state level and maybe not took into consideration what the impact would be on the day to day running of the office or how elections happen at a polling place. And the more that I worked on different kinds of legislation and different issues that affected the county clerk’s the more that I wanted to get involved at that local level. And prior to that I had worked in the Attorney General’s Office doing consumer protection and antitrust, which was really interesting to do straight out of law school. But I had done internships in the Secretary of State’s office, during law school, I had worked with the league of women voters and elections was just really my interest. And when I had the opportunity to join the Secretary of State’s office, it was a new administration. So it was just a really good way to get in at the ground floor. And then, as my, you know, knowledge of the elections process grew. That’s when I really decided to get involved and run for office in my in the county that I was living in.
Alyssa Dinberg 09:13
How long is your term?
Brianna Lennon 09:15
It is four years, so I will be back on the ballot in 2022.
Alyssa Dinberg 09:20
Okay, and do you does the county clerk in your county, is it term limited?
Brianna Lennon 09:25
No, actually, prior to my election, we have the same county clerk for 34 years, so she was, Yeah, she she came in in 1984. And she had been planning to retire in 2018. She did. Unfortunately, she got sick and so she had to step down a little bit early. But she had established such a great foundation for the Office for serving voters and running elections and doing all those processes. So it was a big role to step into. But I felt really comfortable that she had really set it up in a way for success.
Alyssa Dinberg 10:08
Are most county clerk’ elected are, are there some appointed county clerks too.?
Brianna Lennon 10:14
So even just in Missouri, the county clerks that are running elections are elected. But then there are different parts of the state that have Board of election commissioners that then hire Republican and Democrat directors. So you can run elections in Missouri and be appointed or you can be elected. And then there’s different variations of job description for what the county clerk’s in Missouri are doing as well. And then nationally, that’s the same format. In Michigan, for example, Michigan has one of the largest numbers of elections administrators, because it’s run both at the city clerk level, and at the county clerk level. And in Michigan, the City Clerk’s are appointed, they do a fair amount of elections administration for their local. Like they’re managing polling places, training, poll workers and all that, but they still have a county clerk that’s ordering the ballots for them, and making other elections, decisions, and those are elected. So it really varies. It’s one of the things that people talk about being a strength of the elections administration in the United States is the decentralization. But you can do it, whether you’re appointed or elected, it just so happens that in Missouri, the vast majority of us are elected.
Alyssa Dinberg 11:39
That’s so interesting. Right in my current position is the first time I’ve ever worked for a county, and I’ve only ever worked for cities up until now. And so coming into it, and having an elected County, elected county clerk and elected sheriff, all these elected positions was definitely really different for me. And I feel a lot more disconnected from the work that they do. versus when I worked in a city and they were all on staff. I wonder if you have similar experiences with that?
Brianna Lennon 12:11
Yeah, that’s a huge thing that comes up really often is the segregation of duties amongst election amongst elected officials, because that’s the same in all of our counties. Everybody’s an elected assessor elected treasurer. And there’s checks and balances amongst those elected offices. But you’re right, there’s not always a lot of cooperation, or even just conversation happening between the offices because everybody has their own little responsibility carved out in county government. And one of the things that often comes up pretty, I would say, not as much in the county that I’m in, although it has come up in the past is the floating the idea of having a county charter. Because if you put a charter system in to in Missouri, then it basically creates what a city has. So there are cities, and some counties within the state of Missouri that have charters, those are the ones that also have Board of Elections commissioners, in a lot of cases. But we do have one that has an elections official that is elected via the county charter, but they don’t have any of the other same responsibilities as a county clerk. So it’s really unique. It’s the only county that’s like that. So depending on how your community feels, there are times when counties transform from having elected county clerks and having everybody be an elected person, to transitioning to having a county administrator with the county legislature with everybody being appointed. There, there definitely is a big difference. And where I am, we have a fairly large city that is the vast majority of the population for the county, and they have a completely separate city government. And that’s exactly how they’re run. They have a city manager and everything is under that umbrella. So there is a lot more continuity and you know, working together, this structure is a little more cohesive than it is in the county. But I have found that it can be helpful to have that division of labor at the county as well. Sometimes it’s a little bit more difficult when you’re looking for resources because everybody is just trying to, you know, share in the same allocated resource pool. But from a from a cooperative standpoint, I think you can build relationships with other elected officials and accomplish a lot of really great things and innovative things because you can pull your resources together and work on something that benefits both of you
Alyssa Dinberg 15:10
Interesting. It’s it’s so crazy how different it is everywhere. I constantly feel like I have so much to learn and now that i’m in the county space i feel like i have a lot to learn i feel like a lot of times i’m just in the dark so this is really interesting to me. So if a county has a board of elections that means that their clerk is less responsible for election administration, is that true?
Brianna Lennon 15:38
Yes, so their city clerk just has a completely different job description or their, their county clerk depending on who it is there are some some of them that have county clerks that are responsible for completely different things than what we do like we do notary commissions for example they might not do notary commissions there either they might have an entirely separate office so that’s just defined by whatever the county charter has within it
Alyssa Dinberg 16:04
Gotcha. Okay. So in your structure, what are you responsible for and i’m going to preface this by saying under normal circumstances so non COVID times?
Brianna Lennon 16:16
Right, so traditionally historically and this is this is one truth that is across the nation, county clerks were really the administrators of county government so if there was any kind of job that had to be done at the county level that was random from auctioneer licenses to you know administering yeah dog licenses and things like that like ultimately some county clerk somewhere was responsible for it because what the role really is is serving as the clerk of the county commission so that’s the full title of county clerk in Missouri at least and that means that our primary responsibility other than elections is to maintain all of the records for the county and staff the county commission meetings for my county we have those twice a week we’re responsible for creating the agenda working with all of the other departments on what they need to have heard by the county commission taking all of the minutes for them transcribing them and then making sure that they’re available in an accessible way for when we have sunshine law or FOIA requests then we’re the ones responsible for that. We also do notary commissions so our notaries are all applied for at the state level but when they finally become notaries and they’re getting their commission they come to our office to be sworn in. We manage merchant licenses we merge we do liquor licenses and we handle payroll for all the county staff so we have a number of different tasks and in addition to elections and that’s that’s a small subset of what some other clerks do sometimes, we’re in a situation where Missouri also has these classes of county so we’re a first class county, it’s determined by the assessed valuation of your county and that means that we are lucky enough that our county has an elected county auditor. In third class counties, which make up the majority of Missouri, they do not have a county auditor which means all of the budget responsibility is also the county clerk’s. So putting all of that together it makes for a very eclectic group of county clerks we have an association so when we get together for training everybody has very different needs because county clerks that have one or two staff because they’re a small county also have additional responsibilities and juggling those and determining what is prioritized at any point in the year it’s not just like elections are the busy season, they also have an election they also have a budget busy season and we’re also responsible for finalizing tax rates, we’re also the secretary of the board of equalization for the assessor’s office there’s a number of things that depending on what point of the year depends on what we’re primarily focused on.
Alyssa Dinberg 19:27
So given everything you just said, I have to ask, what are your thoughts on county clerk’s being elected? Do you think that especially for the small counties where there’s not a lot of people potentially running for those positions, do you think it’s good that it’s elected or do you think it should be something that people go to school for and have an education in?
Brianna Lennon 19:55
I think that by and large it works well to have people elected. And I think that’s because we have a training system in place. Part of Missouri statutes, and I know a lot of other states operate this to provide an incentive in the law itself to do continuing education. So every year, we’re required to get a certain number of hours for training. And we generally do that at an annual conference. But we also have a mid year conference that focuses on elections, specifically, we have regional meetings where we get together and talk about ways to do things, we try to do mentorship within our association. And I’m not really sure considering the breadth of responsibilities that that clerks have, I’m not sure that there’s a particular way to train somebody to become a county clerk before they are one. So whether they’re elected or whether they’re appointed, the most experienced, obviously, you could get by being in the office, as somebody that has, you know, worked in a clerk’s office before you run, and a lot of clerks get to be elected through that. They’re, you know, looking at, maybe their boss is going to be retiring soon and they want to continue in their job and they think that they’ve been there for long enough that they’d like to go to the next level and run for that office. And that happens in a lot of county positions, not just county clerk’s offices. But what I would say is, one of the things I do dislike is that we are elected in Missouri on a partisan basis. And I would really like to get away from that and be a little bit more like city government where people are running nonpartisan because that is something that’s we have to put on the ballot. But when it comes to administration, there’s no Democrat or Republican way of running an election. And when we all get together in our associations, we don’t talk about politics, and we don’t know how each other, you know, we don’t put our, our party affiliation on our names or something like that, when we have our meetings. So lots of times, I don’t know what party my colleagues belong to. So it would be nice if we could get away from that. But just regarding elected versus appointed, the only thing I would say is appointed from my perspective. And if you talk to an appointed clerk, they may say otherwise. But from my perspective, it seems to be a little more, a little safer. Like you, you get a little more consistency, because you have people appointed, but that would also depend on the politics of the community that you’re in, that’s appointing those positions.
Alyssa Dinberg 23:01
Right. Yeah, that’s surprising, actually, that you have to run on a party. I mean, I know that our county commissioners run on a party, which is something that’s different for me, but having a position like the county clerk who’s administering elections? That’s interesting, I would definitely think that they would want you not to run on a party.
Brianna Lennon 23:23
Yeah, I think it’s one of those things that was built into the original structure of how county government was set up. And it’s just never been thought about, again, I mean, all of the offices have to run on a partisan basis. That’s another thing that, you know, implementing a charter or just changing the way that the county government is structured, would change that. But I have not seen at least in Missouri, I have not seen any appetite to change that in any way. And I think in some ways, a lot of people view the bipartisan nature of elections as a strength. So when you have election judges that you have to hire, and you’re setting everything up and handling ballots and things like that, we’re obligated to have both a Republican and a Democrat, have the chain of custody of ballots, make sure that they’re administering the election at the polling place in a bipartisan way. So when it comes to the actual, you know, what voters interact with, they’re not really interacting with me as a elected official. They’re interacting with the people that are hired to run the election. And those are always bi partisan.
Alyssa Dinberg 24:43
Interesting. So I’m curious how COVID has shifted things for you in this past year. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Brianna Lennon 24:55
Yeah, COVID has played a huge role in kind of flipping a lot of election administration on its head so from the standpoint of all of the other responsibilities the office has COVID didn’t affect it too much other than the logistics of, are we going to be swearing in notaries curbside are we going to have them come into the office and ultimately we decided to put up barriers and things like that that still allowed people to come into the office so those functions didn’t really change. But the election side of things, once we got through, last year we had four elections one was in the beginning of march one was supposed to be in April and then we had an august primary and the November general election. Right after the march election, which was March 10th, we all realize the county clerk’s all realized that April was going to be a very heavy lift because it was right on the cusp of everybody realizing that things were going to be shutting down so there was so much uncertainty that we were losing polling places, election judges were dropping out, and we had very real concerns that we were not going to be able to pull off an April election in the way that it should be done and so we had to, the way that our law is structured, we had to petition the appellate courts of our state to move the date of the election and ultimately as we were doing that the Governor also decided to just issue an executive order to do that so we moved the April election to June, which helped enormously because we could get through the shutdown periods and everybody could kind of get used to this new normal that we were going to have for a while and we ended up finding backup polling places and things like that so that helped just right off the bat moving things to June. Then we started trying to determine what we needed to have at polling places in order to be successful so we were investing in PPE and looking for plexiglass barriers that we could put between election judges and voters as kind of a precaution and then at the same time we were shifting our attention to absentee voting because Missouri had always been a very tightly regulated absentee state in terms of voters really didn’t vote absentee because they had to choose from six very limited reasons why they would have to cast an absentee ballot things like being absent from the county, serving as an election judge, if they had a physical disability, those could be reasons why you could vote absentee but you could not just vote absentee because you felt like it and we were getting calls from voters very concerned about going to a polling place but with no other option under the law. So as as the county clerk’s association, we really tried to get the law to be more accommodating for voters that were trying to vote and not worry about sacrificing their health or their safety so we did, ultimately there was a law change in June that allowed people to vote absentee if they were at risk for contracting COVID-19 or if they already had COVID-19 and that law only existed for 2020, so it applied to the August primary and the November election. And that took off. We had so many more absentee voters than we’d ever had before. We had to shift the way that we normally run elections so that we could accommodate higher numbers of mailed absentee ballots higher number of voters coming into the office to vote and so we did things like do outdoor tents do weekend opportunities and really just tried to match the interest level of the voters by providing access points so that they could come vote. So those are the big things and if you talk to most elections administrators the huge surge in mail in voting is really what rocked 2020 in terms of election practices that we hadn’t had to deal with before and we were really lucky to have a vendor that prints our ballots anyway that were that was able to accommodate that huge increase in absentee voting but not every county was so lucky so that was something that really affected a lot of offices and took a long time to prepare for so there was. I would say through the summer that’s when you saw the most negative press about elections as everybody was just trying to adjust what What was happening, but by the time we got to November, everybody was pretty set on good practices, we all talk to each other, we all share best practices. So November went incredibly smoothly, because we all could learn from what was happening all through the summer. And I think by and large, I haven’t talked to a single county clerk that has been disappointed with the way that they handled the 2020 November election, everybody feels like it went incredibly smoothly, way better than we ever thought possible. When we were first looking at November, from the lens of you know, we’re in March, and we have no idea how this is going to happen.
Alyssa Dinberg 30:46
Interesting. Were there funding sources available to help clerks adapt their operations? I mean, I would imagine that you guys were working a lot longer hours and needed additional items to keep staff safe.
Brianna Lennon 31:04
Yeah, so that was one of the most controversial elements, I think of what happened last year, because there was some CARES act money. Some county clerks, and this is true nationally to used the CARES act money that went to the counties for everything, to use some of that for elections. There was also an element of the CARES act that provided money to the secretary of state offices. And some of that money funneled down to local election authorities to so we did get some money through the CARES act. And then the other thing that happened and a lot of jurisdictions handled it in a lot of different ways. But there were nonprofit agencies that were offering grant money. So secretaries of state and local election authorities did get some grant money from organizations like the Center for technology and civic life. And those were really, life savers. I don’t know that half of the things that we decided to do or had to do in order to accommodate the increase in voter turnout, and the increase in absentee voting would have been possible if we hadn’t had that additional funding mechanism. So it was really it was it was a stressful time. And it’s something that is now becoming a huge conversation federally, because, you know, ultimately, that’s not how we should be funding elections. We shouldn’t be hoping that a nonprofit is going to step in and save the day. We need to have a more consistent and expected way of funding our elections so that we don’t end up in that situation again.
Alyssa Dinberg 33:04
Yeah, absolutely. That’s wild. I didn’t realize that. Today’s Gov love episode is brought to you by Granicus. Short term rentals or STRs, are found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Their numbers are growing at a staggering rate and 1000s of communities across North America. What does this mean for government It’s time to act. STRs can be a tremendous source of revenue for local governments or real community nuisance. It all depends on adopting the right Compliance and Enforcement strategy. To date over 350 communities have partnered with Granicus on their STR compliance programs for everything from address and host identification to ordinance consulting and permitting tools. Interested in learning more about the STR market in your community, and how Granicus can help? Visit granicus.com to schedule a free consultation. That’s granicus.com for more information. What has been your biggest challenge and biggest success in the past year?
Brianna Lennon 34:15
I think for me, they’re the same thing. The The biggest challenge was just how are we going to get through November of 2020. And I was reminded by talking to my deputy the other day, that every election that we had in 2020 was completely different from the one before so we were putting in pretty large changes for every election but they all built up to the November 2020 election. So we were in a really great place by the time we got there. But and this is this is particular to my county but we were the last county in the state to join the statewide voter registration system. And because of that, before we even knew that COVID was going to be a thing, at the end of 2019, we were in the middle of a database migration. and hoping that we were going to be able to get through that in order for 2020 to be successful. And so we’re administrating the March, presidential preference primary, and doing dual entry of our voter registrations into our legacy system, and the news in the state system that we were now belonging to. And that was a huge lift, because we were basically doing double work. And by the time we got through that, we then had the time. I mean, one of the nice things was moving the election from April to June gave us the time to really push through getting the rest of the migration completed. So that allows that allowed us in June to not have to worry about that we didn’t have to do dual entry anymore. We were able to integrate some more really good things like being able to do some of this off site absentee that we hadn’t had before. And we had some of our technology upgraded so that we could do things like check absentee voters in on our poll pads, which were what we used at the polling place. So that made our absentee go faster. And as we were, you know, bringing on these new things. They were all small tweaks to the process that eventually added up to allow us to get through November. So I would say the challenge was just so many changes happening at the same time, but the success was all of those changes played out beautifully to allow us to have a good November 2020.
Alyssa Dinberg 36:53
That’s great. It’s it sounds like your team was really able to adapt. I mean, we’ve all had to adapt in our own ways in local government this year, and and not even just the local government, but the clerk’s offices had to adapt in in unimaginable ways. I can’t even imagine how crazy your office was those couple of months. So with the adaptions that were made, I’m curious to know, what you hope to continue, or what do you hope to go back to in terms of your operations?
Brianna Lennon 37:30
I think we’re planning. So we’ve got an, we’ve got an April 6th election. And we’re planning to keep some of the elements on maybe a more scaled down version, just by virtue of the fact that turnout is not going to be nearly as high as it was in November, but our weekend absentee, essentially pop ups, we did them in the parking lots of different schools around town, we’re going to be doing those. And for the April 6 election, just like we did for November, because people found them very successful. They allowed for, like an open air drive up voting type of situation. And people really thought that that was helpful in staying socially distance and not having to interact with people. But I think those types of things help people just have better access to voting anyway, regardless of whether you’re trying to, you know, avoid people or if you’re just trying to find a time to vote when you would normally be too busy on a Tuesday or, you know, are actually going to be out of town. So access is definitely something that we will continue to pursue. We also had already planned to continue our voter education efforts, one of the things that we had really leaned into and had planned to in 2019, regardless of what was happening in 2020 was to create a more robust social media presence and do more voter education and engagement. And we didn’t get to do that in person, obviously, because the COVID-19 but we did get to do some more unique ways of engagement. We partnered with a local musician that created a really amazing music video and radio spot that we played so that people got education, but also we’re kind of just like a cooler way, I guess then Then in the past. We also got to do some videos on engagement, like we brought in an ASL interpreter so that we could have a video specific to individuals that had hearing impairments so that they could get all the information that they needed to get. And all those things just the goal was to draw people in so that they knew that the county clerk’s office was the office to go to if you had questions about elections, and to try to make them feel comfortable getting in contact with us so that we knew when problems were coming up. The majority of the time that I am spending on election day, in addition to, you know, things pop up, then we have to handle those. But lots of times, I’m just trolling social media to see what’s happening. So that I know if there are problems arising because people aren’t necessarily reaching out to our office directly. So one of the things that I would love to continue is building up that engagement so that we can be the first thought when you have too long of a line at a poll, or you see something that you’re not quite sure if it’s correct, just call us or send a message to us directly, instead of putting it out into social media with, you know, the thought that somebody will crowdsource that answer for you. I’d rather I’d much rather have them coming to us so that we can give the answer directly.
Alyssa Dinberg 41:04
I love that. I’m really glad you touched on that, because I was gonna ask what the role of the clerk’s office was in terms of community engagement. Because it’s, you don’t often hear about county clerk’s offices doing outreach like that, and doing educational opportunities, but it’s very much needed. Because, you know, I work in local government, and I have for years, and I don’t even know what I’m supposed to go to the clerk’s office for all the time. So an average day citizen definitely doesn’t know. So I think that’s really important.
Brianna Lennon 41:38
No, and I think it really varies. I mean, there’s, there’s finite resources to be able to do things. And if you’re trying to decide between sending out a sample ballot mailing or coming up with an edgy new way of communicating with voters, you know, you’re probably going to spend it on the sample ballot mailing, because that at least gets to everybody. And then there’s also an element of just philosophically, there’s not always a single answer from elections administrators as to whether they should be doing engagement, lots of elections, administrators see themselves as administrators of an election, which means that if you have basic questions, sure, come to us. But it’s not our role to increase voter turnout, or, you know, go out into the community and do things other than just register people to vote, which I also think is a fair way to think about things, especially if you are strapped for resources, or just have one or two people in your office. There’s certainly roles that in the elections, I don’t know what the right word is. Like the eco, like the elections ecosystem, it doesn’t just involve county clerks, you’ve got advocacy groups, you’ve got campaigns, you’ve got the candidates themselves, and everybody is trying to bring the same information to the table. Everybody’s trying to get voters to come out and vote, everybody’s trying to tell them all of the details of when the election is and what the deadlines are. And so there’s always a lot of noise that you’re competing with as a county clerk when you’re talking about elections engagement. So that makes it tricky as well. So I think it really depends on what office that you’re talking to. And there, you know, like I’ve talked to the elections administrators in King County in Seattle, have a whole communications job that they hired that they strictly do social media and outreach, and they came up with a whole campaign for how they wanted 90% turnout. And, and that’s great. But I also don’t know that it’s it’s one of the things that- county clerk’s are very good at knowing their community in terms of what works for each of their communities, which is why there’s always that that stance from them that elections administration is not one size fits all. And that’s true of engagement as well.
Alyssa Dinberg 44:17
Yeah, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize I mean, King County’s massive, but I didn’t realize that they hired a communications person. That’s interesting. So my last question for you, and this is looking forward. I know that there’s a lot of a lot of things shifting in election administration right now. So I’m just wondering what you think it will look like five years from now.
Brianna Lennon 44:43
So I think what 2020 has taught us is that voters are looking for convenience and more updated ways of casting their ballots and Accessing ballots and kind of moving away from the traditional polling place model, whether that’s moving towards, you know, more mail or whether that’s moving towards a vote center model. There are lots of different ways that the elections feel the shifting right now. But it’s also inherently a political role, because elections is legislated. And so you still are, to some extent, bound by what state legislators and what federal legislators and policymakers decide for how elections should be run. So a lot, I think, is going to depend on what happens this year and next year, in changing laws. There are several legislators that are looking at 2020 and saying, you know, I guess that worked. But we really need to scale back a lot of those things that we did temporarily. In Missouri, for example, the COVID-19 excuse expired at at the end of 2020. And so that’s not available now. So now I have questions from voters about what they should do, because they don’t have that available to them anymore. And I don’t know how much appetite there is for expanding absentee voting back to where it was for 2020, even though it worked pretty well. So I think every state is going to have a different a slightly different process than they had in 2020. And in five years. I am hopeful that a lot of what is happening now, whether it’s a backlash to 2020, or a leaning into 2020 will start kind of evening out. And we’ll see more local election administrator voices in this conversation when it comes to how we want our elections to be run. I think that sometimes it’s something that is lacking. And a lot of election administrators now feel very encouraged with, there’s a fair number, 2020 was hard on a lot of people, there were a lot of jurisdictions where people were facing death threats, and just had so much stress and pressure put upon them that we’re also seeing a lot of people retiring from the field. But we’re also seeing the people that are still staying there really double down on the fact that we need to have more of a voice in how our elections are run when those policies are being decided. So I’m hopeful that in five years, it’ll be more voter centric, it’ll be more focused on what works for voters in what works for good administration of elections so that we have the best of both worlds, because that’s what we saw in 2020. And that’s one of the reasons why you see so many county clerks in favor of things like no excuse absentee voting, because you not only allow the voter to cast a ballot, because it’s convenient for them. But you also from a planning perspective, get to spread out the workload of Election Day, and not have to be so concerned with everything going exactly right on one day, in order for an election to be successful. We have cyber security concerns now. We have added technology, there are so many things that aren’t even related to those things that could go wrong, a polling place could burn down, a polling place could have a gas leak, poll workers could not show up, all of those things have a huge impact if everybody’s voting on Tuesday, but if that happens, you know, two weeks out, you can fix that you can make sure that people have a different opportunity to vote. So just so many of the things that are coming up now, that I think will continue to be conversations in five years, but maybe more maybe in a less hyper partisan way will be what works for voters and what what exactly do voters want? We’ve seen that in other states, and hopefully that’ll be the new trend.
Alyssa Dinberg 49:37
That’ll be great. I’m really excited about that. The the pandemic has been really hard for everyone and it’s it’s caused a lot of sadness and anger and frustration, but I think a lot of really good things are gonna come out of it. It’s forced us to evolve. And I think election administration is a perfect example of that. So I’m really, really excited to see What sticks around and what the future of elections looks like, because voting is clearly very important. And the easier we can make it for people. And the more we can evolve to meet the needs of our residents, the better off our communities are going to be. So thank you for all the work that you’re doing. I really appreciate it.
Brianna Lennon 50:21
Oh, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t find it extremely fun. And my, my office is is fantastic. I mean, none of that could have been done without really dedicated people that have poured their hearts into making sure that 2020 was successful.
Alyssa Dinberg 50:36
Yeah. Well, good. I’m glad to hear that you have fun. And again, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the episode. I have one last question for you. If you could be the Gov Love DJ for this episode, what song would you pick as your exit music?
Brianna Lennon 50:54
You know, I knew that that question was coming and I still don’t have a great answer. I just am so stuck on one of the times I did something for ELGL and I was talking about Alice In Chains and so now I’m like, I don’t know I guess an Alice In Chains song. I feel like that would ,that it’s cooler than I deserve.
Alyssa Dinberg 51:14
I doubt that. But we can make that work for you. Well, thank you again for taking the time to be on this episode with me. Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Thank you so much. That was awesome.