When I was a child, I would ever-so-often hear my mother ask my grandmother what had happened in the most recent election commission meeting; my grandmother, active in the local political sphere as an opinion writer, would gladly tell her everything. I would always tune those discussions out, never knowing that one day I, too, would attend such a meeting. This February, I attempted to sit in on a Chester County Election Commission meeting, but encountered a significant amount of hurdles in doing so. These obstacles are substantially troubling, as they directly impair and effect our democracy, going against established theoretical principles.
On a theoretical level, Robert Dahl argues there are three important factors of conceptualized democracy: the ability to formulate and theorize your own political preferences and the ability for those preferences to be heard, weighed, and understood. For a government to be ruled by the authority of people, it is only sensible on a theoretical level for their opinions to have an impact on the way their government legislates them. The weathering away of these democratic processes can occur when the peoples’ involvement in the government is decreased–such as their ability to express their opinion being stonewalled, or their input not being considered, despite how loudly it is voiced.
My experience in attempting to attend a Chester County Election committee only served to show that local governing institutions were contributing to a breakdown of democracy by making decisions that would directly prevent citizens from being able to voice their input. These issues had humble beginnings on the commission’s website, where they proudly displayed the date of their next meeting–February 16, 2019. No location was listed with the announcement, so I could only assume it would be held at the election commission office, the address of which I promptly looked up. The only issue, though, was the time–11:30 A.M., only twenty-five minutes after my morning classes were finished in a town thirty-five minutes away from the office, not including lunchtime traffic, which sometimes adds an extra twenty minutes to the drive. It would be a stretch, and I would certainly be late, but I had my doubts they would deny me entry into the meeting.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the office that I was told the meeting had been changed, and the woman at the front informed me that the date had been changed and a location would be posted online prior to the date; however, as the date loomed nearer, the location had not been updated on the website. By the time I had made it to the election commission office through heavy traffic in town, the meeting was over.
After failing to attend the meeting, I started to research the Chester County Election Commission, and found that they had not posted the change of meeting location to the website, but instead to their Facebook page, which is followed by an unsettling three hundred individuals out of the county’s population of over seventeen thousand . Even within that small number, some individuals expressed their concern with having interest in the meetings but being unable to attend due to their before-noon meeting time; one individual even asked if it was possible for the meeting time to be changed to something later.
Even though the Chester County Election Commission posts certain updates on this Facebook page (notably meeting time changes and photos of staff), there is hardly any visible communication between the commission and the people. Comments go for weeks and weeks without any response, despite the fact the election commission has resources it can provide. After a quick search on Google, I found the election commission has a YouTube account that is updated regularly with election commission meeting minutes and other assorted videos; unfortunately, this channel is not mentioned either on their Facebook page or website.
The communication of the Chester County Election Commission is certainly falling off as time progresses; with individuals not turning to print media for news updates and relying entirely on sources like Facebook or Twitter for their information, the organization is struggling to bring its presence to the forefront of social media–not only that, it is struggling to carry out its democratic purpose of providing the citizens with a voice in how their government operates for them. The resources they provide, such as meeting recordings, updates, and calendars of events, are spread out between different online media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and their own website. If the election commission wishes to bring more interest into what they do, they need to have a cohesive and consistent social media presence; all social media sites should be listed on their website, and each account should link back to its other versions across the internet. Members of the election commission should be hard-pressed to become more active on social media, communicating with voters on coming up with more accessible meeting times and providing interested parties links to meeting recordings or other information they might need.
My personal issues in attending the election commission meeting, in tandem with concerns expressed by other Chester County residents, pose the question: are these meetings becoming increasingly more difficult for people to attend? The answer is yes, most likely so. The election commission has made attempts to keep the people up-to-date with their going-ons, but the rise of social media in all forms of communication has clearly proven to be challenging for them, as shown by their spotty, inconsistent, and relatively detached online presence. The times the meetings occur, usually before lunch, pose a logistical challenge to most working class adults and students who attend school full time; while the information may be readily available for them to view online, the purpose of these meetings is to encourage immediate discourse, which cannot be done if people are not able to attend the meetings. It is important that the election commission begin to reach out to its people and seek their input in order to serve the democratic purpose it was made to fulfill. Continued and consistent failure to do this would only serve to keep contributing to the democratic breakdown these hurdles are encouraging.
In an age where individuals are always on the go, having a poor social media presence and being unable to effectively convey messages is a direct threat to the political involvement of citizens. The lack of communication coming from the commission shows that they are not interested in hearing the input of their people, and their setting of meeting times in the middle of busy work days show they aren’t even attempting to reach out for that input. If these issues aren’t fixed, it could potentially continue into something more disastrous.
- “*Photo by the Chester County Election Commission,” (Unsplah), Creative Commons Zero license.