Participants of IFES' 2012 U.S. Election Program visit polling stations in the Washington, D.C. area.
Over 400 participants from more than 60 countries gathered in Washington, D.C., to partake in IFES’ 2012 U.S. Election Program (USEP). From November 4-7, the program provided election officials, practitioners and experts the opportunity to learn about the American electoral system, discuss current topics in election management and exchange ideas on best practices in electoral administration.
To ensure the international participants shared a common understanding of the elections they were to witness on November 6, the USEP was kickstarted with a primer on the U.S. election system.The following three days also began with panel discussions featuring experts on prominent electoral issues, including the use of technology in elections and out-of-country voting, campaign finance, inclusion of persons with disabilities, and the participation of women.
Practical simulations offered participants first-hand experience using equipment that is common to polling stations across the United States. Participants were able to compare the experience of casting a ballot at a polling station that is accessible to persons with disabilities and voting at one that is not.
Evening receptions provided the opportunity to mingle and build ties between program participants. On Monday, a special reception took place to present the 2012 Joe C. Baxter Award to the former chairman of the Philippine Commission on Elections, Christian Monsod, who spoke movingly of the relationship between fair elections and social justice.
On Election Day, participants visited polling stations throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to witness the American voting process. There, they had the opportunity to ask questions of voting precinct personnel and gain perspective on the U.S. election system. In the afternoon, a tour of broadcasting institution Voice of America (VOA) showed participants different services offered by the organization. Many visitors were interviewed by VOA in their own languages.
That evening, participants enjoyed an election night reception at the House of Sweden and watched the U.S. election results come in live as they interacted with members of D.C.'s international community.
The U.S. Election Program ended on Wednesday with panel discussions on voter identification laws and the adjudication of election disputes, held in the historic Kennedy Caucus room in the Russell Senate building. Following lunch, participants toured the U.S. Capitol.
At the conclusion of the event, IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney said the USEP had fulfilled its goal of expanding understanding of electoral practices in the U.S. and, most importantly, fostering meaningful connections among participants.