GCSU first in state to offer new election administration certificate

GCSU first in state to offer new election administration certificate

T he United States is in dire need of professional election administrators who understand today’s legal challenges, changing policies, vote-collection methods and latest technology.

In response, Georgia College & State University has created a new Election Administration Certificate—the first academic certificate on elections in the state of Georgia and one of only a few nationwide.

Senior Lecturer of political science Claire Sanders.
Senior Lecturer of political science Claire Sanders.
“Certificates in election administration go a long way in educating students about the election process, which builds public confidence in the election system,” said Claire Sanders, senior instructor of political science at Georgia College.

“Since few universities offer such certificates,” she said, “our students will have a unique educational advantage should they ever pursue a career in election administration or if they want to serve their community as a poll worker.”

More than 8,000 election officials and 100,000 poll workers administer elections in the U.S.

Georgia College’s Election Administration Certificate started this fall as a way to prepare students for a career in public service—and to graduate students who are knowledgeable about election laws and procedures, election bureaucracy, voting rights and political parties.

The program takes students beyond campaigns slogans, party rivalry and polarization—all too common in today’s political environment—to focus on what’s truly important:  elections as the foundation of representative government.

The certificate is available to students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

They must complete four courses in political science and public administration—examining the constitutional, legal, political and administrative environment of American elections. Both graduate and undergraduate certificates require immersive experiences that include volunteering with a local elections office, conducting opinion polls or other related work.  

Final projects in Sanders’ class recently focused on topics like voter confidence and how state election laws affect voting outcomes.

This certificate brings awareness that my generation needs to step up, take a role and serve in a public capacity. The most rewarding part of working in the election process is the feeling I contributed to our democracy and increased my knowledge and trust in the election process.
– Colin Hall

Colin Hall
Colin Hall
Junior political science major Colin Hall of Jones County thinks the certificate couldn’t come at a better time. He wants to be an elected official but is dismayed by recent partisan fighting and lack of trust in election results.

To help fulfill internship hours, Hall was a Jones County poll worker in the recent mid-term elections.

The job gave him newfound respect for poll workers and election administrators. By taking election certificate courses and working the mid-terms—Hall said he is fully confident in the integrity of U.S. elections, especially in Georgia.

“I was interested in getting the Election Administration Certification, because America thrives on democracy, our election process and the right to vote,” Hall said. “Election administrators are so vital to our democracy. They have such pressured, stressful jobs but still preform at a professional level.”

Nicholas Wimbish and Emily Wyche at a local precinct during the recent midterm elections.
Nicholas Wimbish and Emily Wyche at a local precinct during the recent midterm elections.
Junior Jack Howle of Thomson, Georgia, is double majoring in political science and economics. He worked the polls in McDuffie County during the mid-term election. His most common question for voters was: “May I see your Georgia ID, please?”

After verifying identification, Howle and Hall both asked voters to make sure addresses were correct and to include their middle names on voting records. They verified advanced, in-person absentee ballots as well.

Both students are personable and friendly and had no trouble talking to strangers.

“It was incredibly rewarding,” Howle said. “I gained an in-depth understanding of how elections are run in the state of Georgia and how tightly regulated everything is.”

Poll working experience is fundamental to the new certificate program—only so much can be learned from a textbook or lecture. Practical experience is a must for the certificate to be effective and more than just a piece of paper.
– Gibson Howle
“Poll working experience is fundamental to the new certificate program—only so much can be learned from a textbook or lecture,” he said. “Practical experience is a must for the certificate to be effective and more than just a piece of paper.”

In the future, Georgia College will establish more partnerships with local governing bodies, so students can work all aspects of elections.

Hall believes this hands-on experience is vital, as he prepares for a political career.

Some elected leaders are “out of touch” and lack understanding of the election process itself, he said. As a public servant, Hall wants to ensure better resources are allocated for election administration and more respect given to poll workers.

“My goal in the future is to serve in a political office and hopefully work my way up to make a positive difference in a world that so desperately needs it,” he said. “I believe the Election Administration Certificate will help me better serve people but also better serve our election administrators.”

“Most importantly, this certificate will help me as a candidate to trust, respect and not doubt our election process, regardless of the outcome of an election.”
– Colin Hall