Program Theme Spotlight: Best Practices in Elections Programming

IVLP visitor participating in mock election


In the midst of the most significant election cycle of American politics, the presidential election, it is a good time to reflect on best practices in election programming for international visitors. These projects give us a chance to create lively itineraries that illuminate our political and electoral processes. The following is a list of issues to consider when introducing international guests to our sometimes arcane and often divergent election systems:

IVLP Visitor with Bernie Sanders Supporter
IVLP visitor with Bernie Sanders Supporter
  • Ask: What are the messages? There are many, starting with the fact that we actually have free and fair elections.  Others include: the structure of U.S. federalism; the role of civil society organizations and political parties; and the importance of transparency, accountability and volunteerism in our system, to name a few.
  • Create context. With national and local elections, start in Washington and prepare background for local elections encountered downstream.  Provide enough information for grounding and sense of political place, but don’t overwhelm.
  • Declare party time! Be sure to cover the role of political parties in U.S.—weak most of the time, but important candidate funders. Cover the spectrum by including national, state, local and campus contexts.
  • Use the rainbow. Incorporate red, blue and purple states, and highlight a range of political persuasions.
  • Consider all sectors. Groups such as: League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and Rock the Vote send important civil-society messages. Be sure to include media, academic and business perspectives as well.
  • Go with the flow. Be flexible and creative. If the group hears of a rally several hours away, help them get there—or they’ll rent a car and get there on their own. Remember, this is their only chance, and rallies are often last-minute events.
  • Make it count.  A long primary season may offer many programming opportunities, but there will be just one Election Day, so be sure to take full advantage of site visits to polling places and observation of other Election Day activities.
  • Try team splits. To facilitate site visits and interactive programming for large groups, include sub-group segments. Consider timing—do you want to split the visitors during the run up to or on Election Day itself?
  • Reflect on the day after. What do the results mean? What balloting problems were encountered and how were they addressed?
IVLP visitor with current Ohio Governor John Kasich
IVLP visitor with current Ohio Governor John Kasich

Please share any thoughts you have with us on this or any other programming topic. The Program Theme Spotlight is intended to promote ideas, brainstorming and best practices on frequent IVLP project topics.