Voter Education in Douglas County

Voter EducationPurpose

Douglas County is growing fast.  City, county, and district lines are constantly changing.  This can lead to voter confusion within the community that leads to lower voter turnout.  If Douglas County residents are educated on issues such as who can vote in which elections; who their representatives are; when elections take place; where to vote; how to register; and how to find information about candidates, barriers to voting can be reduced and lead to greater community involvement and increased voter turnout.

Goal

Our goal was to convene a meeting of local representatives.  We wanted to include the Omaha City Council members; Douglas County Commissioners; the Douglas County Election Commission; MAPA (Metropolitan Area Planning Agency); SID (Sanitary and Improvement District) representatives; school districts; local community leaders; and the League of Women Voters to brainstorm ways to increase voter education.

The Meeting

The meeting day proved to be an interesting test.  We were expecting four participants and planned our agenda accordingly.  That morning we received an email from two of the recipients (both were from the same organization).  The message said one couldn’t come because he was sick.  The other person had a scheduling conflict. That cut our meeting from four people to two.

We had an in-depth discussion to decide whether we should still hold the meeting or reschedule.  We did not want to disappoint the two still coming yet respect their time.  We checked in with Linda Trout about the situation.  Since we couldn’t reach either attendee before the meeting, we chose to leave the decision in their hands when they arrived.  After presenting the options, they decided to continue with the meeting as they were already there.

The beginning of the meeting did not go quite as planned.  The attendees’ arrivals were staggered.  Since extra time was spent discussing the low turnout options and filling out the community engagement survey, we skipped a couple of things (like the icebreaker).  We felt there was a bit of an awkward silence which might have just been on our part since they were focused on their surveys. Voter Education 2 We think light background music in could help with this lull. However it would be nice to get a better handle on how to open a meeting when people arrive at different times.

Having three facilitators was a great asset during the meeting.  Michelle facilitated the bulk of the meeting.  Autumn did all the flip charting.  Maggie was sat back, took notes and observed which helped her summarize the meeting, talk about next steps, and wrap up the discussion.

Michelle felt good, for the most part, about her role as facilitator.  The agenda and discussion questions we put together made her feel confident.  Since Autumn was going to support her as flip-charter, the stress and nerves of being in front of a group was alleviated.  All three of us knew, understood, and accepted our roles.  It felt balanced.  Since the attendees were willing to participate fully, there were no conflicts to resolve and no silences to coax into conversation.

We were all very impressed with how lively and interesting the conversation was with only two people attending.  Both were passionate and informed about the topic.  Neither individual was shy about speaking up.  They generated a lot of wonderful ideas and seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of collaborating on the brainstormed projects.

Posted by Michelle Carlson, Autumn Hill, and Maggie Rasmussen

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