[Image courtesy of the Polling Place Photo Project]
A friend and former Pew colleague - Dan Vock of Stateline.org - shared a recent piece in the New York Times by Cornell's Robert Frank that examined how customer service improvements at the Tompkins County Department of Motor Vehicles in Ithaca had resulted in greater satisfaction for customers and employees alike.
Individual satisfaction aside, Frank sees an opportunity to use better customer service for members of the public to improve (typically dismal) public attitudes about government generally. After all, he observes, much of public distaste for government undoubtedly stems from "the annoying experiences that many Americans have had in government offices."
Consider this howler from the piece:
One blogger, for example, described a visit to a rural Ohio motor vehicle office where he ignored the "take a number" sign, since he was the only customer in the room. When he approached the counter, the clerk glared at him and sternly ordered him to take a number. He dutifully complied, adding that "as soon as I sat down, she called out, 'One!' " "That's me!" he responded, and only then did she deign to scrutinize his forms.
[As the kids today like to say on the Internet - um, wow.]
I've often observed that election administration has the same kind of potential to change attitudes - especially given that, unlike the mandatory tasks that take place at DMV, citizens are under no compulsion to utilize a polling place or even vote at all. Like DMV, however, citizens are likely to view voting as something they have to do as opposed to something they want to do - and anything that makes the process seem easier and more customer-friendly (and thus less painful) is likely to get a good response - and not just that day but in the future.
In 2012, over one hundred million Americans are likely to cast a ballot. That's more than one hundred million opportunities to deliver quality customer service - and maybe even delight people who weren't expecting to be delighted.
Every day gives us lots of reasons to be sour about the state of the nation's politics and government. Election Day, however, is a single moment in time where we as a profession have an opportunity to give each voter a reason to believe in the election process and the people who make it work.