Out West student blog

Special Elections, Canvassing, and the Capitol

Posing at the NCSL headquarters at a paving stone commemorating Ohio statehood.

By Eliza Steffen
B.A. Political Science, 2020
Elections & Redistricting Intern, National Conference of State Legislatures



Tuesday, August 7th was a nerve-racking day. My congressional district, the Ohio 12th, was having a special election to replace Pat Tiberi, a 17-year incumbent who resigned in January to take a private-sector job. My parents had spent the few months canvassing as often as they could, and friends were working on the candidates’ campaigns. A week later, with a 0.9% spread, the race still isn’t officially decided due to 3,435 provisional ballots and 5,048 absentee votes – and it won’t be until August 24th.

The personal became the the professional when, at the National Conference of State Legislatures, I was tasked with investigating the reasons behind the delay, and had the opportunity to write about it in NCSL’s elections blog. Essentially, provisional voters have a week to “cure” their ballots at their county board of elections, and in Ohio absentee ballots are allowed up to ten days to arrive, more than almost any other state. This means that the canvass (official counting of ballots) cannot begin until August 17th, ten days after the election. I loved getting to dive into something that was happening in my own state – my own district, and find out how the idiosyncrasies of Ohio election policy will directly impact who will be representing me in Congress for the next two years.

I loved getting to dive into something that was happening in my own state – my own district, and find out how the idiosyncrasies of Ohio election policy will directly impact who will be representing me in Congress.

Other than that, I have been able to write about the relationship between voter turnout and federalism, particularly with recent Supreme Court cases and an empty spot on the court. I am starting to finish up several large projects I’ve been working on since June, including reviewing the statutes governing the popular referendum process. Although successful petitions for a “people’s veto” are not especially common, last Tuesday just proved how much they can change the game. The deep red state of Missouri voters repealed Proposition A, a right-to-work law restricting unions – the first time a popular referendum repealing this type of law has been successful.

Additionally, I have been able to learn more about Colorado politics. A few weeks ago, we visited the state capitol building and spoke to legislative staff from various departments, including the research and fiscal analysis. I enjoyed hearing about how the process of writing statutes has changed over the years, with increasing lobbyist involvement even in state legislatures. This week, we will be taking a tour of the Arapahoe County Board of Elections, one of the most populous counties in Colorado.

Although I have long been interested in local and state level politics, working at NCSL has definitely solidified my interest in the nitty-gritty elements of policy. In my experience, many social science students at Stanford feel pressured to go into international politics and work for federal agencies, that “the bigger the better.” Looking at the past two months, I can say that’s far from true. Before this summer, I didn’t think I wanted to go to law school, but it is now a much stronger possibility- and I’ll get to hear more when I see one of my fellow interns, a rising second year at William & Mary during Stanford in Washington this fall.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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Julia Simon (left) and Janet Wilson, 2022-2023 Western Media Fellows

The Bill Lane Center announces recipients of the 2022-2023 Western Media Fellowship, which provides support for journalists illuminating critical issues about the American West.