Frequently Asked Questions

What is "election administration"?
Who are election administrators?
What does an election administrator do?
How does one become an election administrator and what kind of professional training do they have?

What is "election administration"?

Election administration involves the facilitation of voting and the management of elections at all levels, from local to federal. It includes the organization of election agencies, the behavior and characteristics of state and local election officials, the process of conducting elections, and the implementation of election policies. Election administration at the local level includes running elections on Election Day, as well as all pre and post-election activities, such as maintaining voter registration lists, drawing precincts, selecting polling place sites, procuring equipment, recruiting and training poll workers, canvassing the vote, and evaluating and implementing improvements to the process itself. On the state level, election administration ranges from the maintenance of the state-wide voter registration file and the implementation of federal and state laws and policies concerning elections, to the preparation and printing of the Voter Information Guide or Ballot Pamphlet for state-wide offices and initiatives.

Back to Top

Who are election administrators?

There are many different election administrators at all levels of the process. They range from the state's Election Director, who has the overall responsibility for the conduct of elections in the state, to the poll worker, who is sworn in for the day of the election and is responsible for the polling place. In some states, the Secretary of State serves as the state's Chief Election Officer, and in California this office is a partisan, four-year position that is elected by voters in a General Election. In some other states, such as Illinois, an Election Board or Commission governs elections in the state and the Board hires an Executive Director, who is the state's chief election officer. From mid-2005 through 2006, California's Secretary of State was appointed by the Governor after the resignation of the elected office holder. In November of 2006, a new Secretary of State was elected and began serving in 2007. The Secretary of State's Office is generally responsible for guiding the counties in the implementation of federal election laws and the state's Election Code including promulgating regulations, issuing guidelines, and providing assistance and information. In California, elections are administered at the county level by the "Registrar of Voters," a role which is often given to the "County Clerk" or "County Clerk-Recorder," and sometimes that person also holds the titles Auditor, Auditor-Controller, or Assessor. In most counties the Clerk/Registrar is elected by voters1, but in thirteen counties, mostly the largest ones2, the Registrar is appointed by the County Board of Supervisors. City level elections that do not coincide with scheduled county, state or special elections are sometimes administered by the city clerk. The city clerk can choose to contract with the county to conduct the election, or hire consultant firms for certain aspects of the process. While usually combined, in some states there is a separate set of adminstrators for voter registration and for elections. This is most common at the local level but is the case in at least one state as well.

Back to Top

What does an election administrator do?

Election administrators have a wide range of responsibilities, many of which we have mentioned in the sections above. Typical tasks for County Registrars of Voters include the following: supervising the registration of all voters, conducting of county and statewide elections (including school and special districts), processing local and statewide petitions, assisting in the conduct of municipal elections, establishing and maintaining precinct boundaries, equipping polling places on election day, appointing and training polling place election officers, tabulating election returns (including a semi-official canvass on election night, and an official canvass), preparing a statement of votes cast, and maintaining the county's master voter file. In many counties, the top election administrator holds other positions as well and consequently can only focus part-time on elections. Due to budget constraints, almost all local offices are down-staffed after each election, requiring Registrars to hire and supervise temporary staff during the election season.

To get a real world idea of what California election administrators do check out our News Section which reports on current activities of California election officials.

Back to Top

How does one become an election administrator and what kind of professional training do they have?

In forty-one California counties the County Clerk is elected by voters and the County Clerk is the 'ex officio' Registrar of Voters. In one county (Tulare) the elected Auditor, Controller, Treasurer, Tax-collecter is the ex officio ROV, and the elected Clerk-Recorder-Assessor is not the ex officio ROV. 1 In sixteen counties the Registrar is appointed by the County Board of Supervisors. In two counties, Los Angeles and Mono, the appointed Registrar of Voters is also the appointed County Clerk and Recorder. The eight largest counties (by population) have appointed Registrars.2 County Registrars in California belong to a professional association called the California Association of Clerks & Election Officials (CACEO), whose mission it is to support and facilitate their work. One of their programs is a certification program called the California Professional Election Administration Credential Program or "Cal-PEAC" which offers ten courses in different aspects of election administration; after completing all ten courses, a credential is conferred upon the election official. At the most grassroots level, poll workers (or 'election officers') are recruited and trained, by local election staff immediately prior to an election, in the set up and management of a polling place and facilitation of voting in that polling place.

Back to Top

Home   |   About   |   News   |   Links   |   FAQ   |   Contact   |   Berkeley Law   |   UC Berkeley