Awarding the best ideas for running elections

The EAC's Clearinghouse Awards recognize best practices in election administration.

More than 30 county and state election programs were recently honored by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The EAC’s Clearinghouse Awards recognize best practices in election administration. To find out just how those winners were picked and what some of those best practices are, Federal News Network’s Eric White spoke with EAC Chairman Ben Hovland.

Interview Transcript: 

Eric White  Thirty-two county and state election programs were recently honored by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The EAC’s Clearinghouse Awards recognizes best practices in election administration. To find out just how those winners were picked and what some of those best practices are, we welcome Ben Hovland, EAC chairman. Mr. Hovland, thank you so much for taking the time.

Ben Hovland  Absolutely. Thanks, Eric, for having me.

Eric White  Of course. So why don’t we just start with an overview of the Clearinghouse awards, this is the eighth installment of these awards. How does this award program work?

Ben Hovland  First and foremost, it’s really about recognizing the great work that’s happening around the country, in election offices all over the country. One of the reasons that we created the awards, so the Clearinghouse awards, or Clearies, really represent the clearinghouse function of the Election Assistance Commission. You know, the agency was created to serve as a clearinghouse of best practices across the country. And really, that was because each state runs elections a little bit differently. And so one of the things that we do at the federal level, since we don’t run elections, is look at how each state is administering elections and the queries. The Clearinghouse awards are really about recognizing some of those best practices that we see across the country, lifting up the great work that that the professionals who run our elections are doing all across the country. But it’s also a way to share those ideas. It is a way for other election officials to see what their colleagues are doing across the country, and maybe see a program and an idea that they can tweak to their jurisdiction and make a difference for their voters.

Eric White  Are there certain values, I guess, that it seemed, well, just reading some of these award recipients, there seem to be a nod towards innovation towards more communication? Can you just lay out some of the core values that you all were trying to emphasize when picking the winners?

Ben Hovland  Absolutely. So you hit the nail on the head there. It is, you know, we’re looking for innovation, we’re looking for sustainability. We’re looking for cost effectiveness. We’re looking for replicability. And we’re obviously looking for for positive results. But all of those categories really lean into the notion that I was mentioning before that other jurisdictions are able to take these ideas and use them. While we would applaud any idea that’s helping voters, you know, if this is a one-off circumstance, that is only for a particular place, and there’s no way anyone else could do that, probably wouldn’t be graded as highly as something that we know that jurisdictions across the country could benefit from, and in turn, voters across the country could benefit from.

Eric White  Getting away from the voters themselves, let’s talk about the actual, zero in on some of the parts that may be overlooked. Just the fact of getting enough people to work the polls, what are some of the innovations that you’re seeing there as far as recruitment and retainment go? Because that seems to be an issue with, especially, you know, smaller jurisdictions.

Ben Hovland  Absolutely. And there’s a couple things you hit on there. One thing is, we award Clearies for different size jurisdictions. And part of that is recognizing that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and what what might work for recruiting people in a large city may not work in a smaller community. We definitely want to highlight award winners from different jurisdictions. And we recognize that not all election jurisdictions are resourced the same. And so, again, we want to recognize that innovative work that’s happening in all kinds of communities across the country. As for poll worker recruitment, that’s certainly been an original category. It’s one that we’ve had for a long time, because it is a challenge for election officials across the country. And certainly, that is one that we continue to uplift, we’ve seen things over the years, like adopt a polling place programs, where groups or people who potentially volunteer together to serve a lot of innovative outreach more broadly, and raising up awareness. But so much of that ties into things that we’ve seen, or like the EAC’s national poll worker recruitment day program, because again, this is a challenge for election officials across the country and sort of year in and year out. And part of what we’ve learned in the last few years, is just raising awareness about the need for poll workers and that this is a way that people can volunteer in their community, that they can serve their community. Those people that you see when you check in at the polling place, you know, they’re your friends, they’re your neighbors. They’re people from your community, who are helping to run our democracy. And so encouraging people to do that, letting people know that it is a way that they can participate, letting them know it’s a great way to learn more about the many safeguards that are in place for our elections, are all excellent opportunities. So anyone thinking about that, I encourage them to check out Again, That is an EAC website that talks more about serving as a poll worker and can get you to the right place in your community.

Eric White  We’re talking with Ben Hovland, and he is the chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. So let’s go into the one of the ones that’s been probably in the news more than anything, and that is cybersecurity and technology. What sorts of factors led you to award the winners in that category? I imagine, you know, not only innovation, but effectiveness is definitely key more than any other area. Right?

Ben Hovland  Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things, again, cybersecurity has been a focus, has been a challenge. This is a newer category that we’ve had just for the last few years. But really, again, when you think about the notion of why we have the Clearies, part of that is to recognize great work, but part of that is to share great ideas. And so, you know, one of the ones that this was actually, from a couple of years ago, there was a Clearie winner for something called the cyber navigator program. And essentially, that was recognizing that not every jurisdiction, not every smaller community can necessarily afford to have an election cybersecurity specialist. But you could have people at the state level that have regional responsibilities, where maybe they covered several counties, or several municipalities, depending on how a state’s structured. And so, again, that is a completely replicable program. That’s something that that any state in the country could look at. And that was an innovation that we wanted to lift up and share, to improve the security of our elections across the country.

Eric White  Creativity is highlighted as well, as my favorite category was the “I Voted” stickers and who had the best one. How do you how do you judge who had the best first-time voter and all those, you know, “I Voted” stickers that we see everybody usually wearing on election days?

Ben Hovland  It is nice to have the creative “I Voted” sticker one in there, that one’s a little fun. That’s actually the only one that the commissioners judge. The rest of these we leave up to election officials from across the country that serve as our judges. We’ve got judges from from every time zone all across the country. For most of the categories, they’re very much peer reviewed. The stickers winner we keep for ourselves. It’s pretty subjective. We see a lot of great submissions and programs in there. But that’s really just the four commissioners at the Election Assistance Commission, saying which of these programs or which of these stickers happen to be their favorite, and we average that out and have winners. Again, that one’s a lot of fun. And we’ve seen so many great stickers from across the country. So many, you know, it’s really nice. One of the categories there is sort of community flair. And it’s fun to see, you know, the different ways people have chosen to represent their communities all across the country. So that one, as you noted, is a fun one.

Eric White  Gotcha. You know, it’s an election year, obviously a very busy time for your agency. If you can just kind of lay out what sort of other work you’re doing to help prepare election offices across the country for the next big one.

Ben Hovland  Yeah, you hit the nail on the head again. You know, it is a busy time of year. Most largely, the presidential primaries are over, states are transitioning, many states have state primaries that are happening this summer. So they’re transitioning into that. And of course, preparing for November, and election officials across the country. There are a number of challenges, and certainly, presidential election years are when we see the most voters and that puts the most sort of pressure on our system. But you know what, one of the great things about my job is that I get to travel around the country. And I get to see the work that election officials are doing, the preparation that they’re doing, the training that they’re doing, going through very meticulously their processes to get ready for November. And so at the EAC, you know, we’re looking at ways that we can help that. We’re looking at ways that we can find efficiencies and support election officials across the country.

Eric White  Ben Hovland is the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission. Thank you so much for joining me.

Ben Hovland  Thank you.

Eric White  And we’ll post this interview along with a link to more information about the award winners at You can also subscribe to the Federal Drive wherever you get your podcasts.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Amelia Brust/Federal News NetworkADA, Return to Office

    If they only knew: How ADA awareness can block RTO for government staff

    Read more
    (U.S. Navy graphic by Oliver Elijah Wood)Graphic highlighting watch floor of the U.S. Navy. Fleet Cyber Command

    In ‘paradigm shift,’ DoD looks to move more equipment maintenance overseas

    Read more
    Supreme Court, Chevron deference

    GOP lawmakers see post-Chevron opportunity to ‘retake’ power from regulatory agencies. Experts doubt it’ll work

    Read more