Students observe democracy in action at local polling sites.

Did you know that, in Florida, state law entitles the public to observe election workers as they operate and close polling places, count the number of citizens who vote, and electronically tally the results from touch-screen voting machines?

While many citizens may not be aware of this right, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition (MDERC) takes it to heart—as was demonstrated in the elections held November 7, 2006.

This non-partisan, grass-roots organization is dedicated to election reform and committed to protecting the rights of every eligible voter to cast a ballot and to have that ballot accurately recorded and counted.

Transforming the mission statement into action, more than 200 MDERC volunteers turned out on Election Day to monitor polling activities at more than 150 places across Dade County. This volunteer group included twenty undergraduate students from the College of Business Administration, all of whom were enrolled in the International Business and Business Ethics class taught by Karen Paul, professor, Department of Management and International Business.

“As part of the poll-closing observation project sponsored by the MDERC, the students first attended training sessions, then reported to various precincts to observe the vote counting and reporting process on Election Day,” Paul said. “Afterward, as part of the class assignment, they were required to report back on any problems that they had observed and felt should be addressed by election officials.”

Karen Paul

In a series of written summaries, the students’ provided feedback that covered a variety of issues and recommendations for consideration, such as thoughts on upgrading the training of poll workers, dealing with broken machines, and educating the polling site clerks to understand more thoroughly the Florida law that requires that members of the public be admitted to observer vote counting.

“We were delighted to see these young students become involved in the electoral process,” said Bonnie Daniels, MDERC project coordinator. “We often hear anecdotally from our volunteers, but the reports submitted by Paul’s students helped us gain a clearer insight into how our volunteers perceive the polling observation experience.”

Lessons learned on multiple fronts.

“I heard back from many of my students that they felt participating in the poll-closing observation project was an interesting and useful activity—one that I believe was of value to them on multiple fronts,” Paul said.

In addition to providing the students with first-hand exposure to the American democratic polling process in action, the training session and polling site activities enabled them to get to know people from all different sectors of the local community.

The project also allowed the students to learn how organizations work and how policies get implemented.

“They came to appreciate the importance of proper training as well as the value of having mechanisms in place for constructive feedback,” Paul said.

Community involvement completes a business school education.

The poll-observation project builds on the college’s long history of involvement in community service and service learning.

“We feel it’s important for our students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to what is happening in the community around them,” Paul said. “The polling-observation project provided an outstanding opportunity to get out and participate in the local community. The training process was very well defined and the students knew exactly what was expected of them. It was a wonderful, rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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