Out West student blog

Working to Reduce the Divide Between People and Politicians

Giving a talk after arriving at NCSL.

By Hannah Zimmerman
Public Policy, 2021
Legislative Strengthening Center Intern
National Conference of State Legislatures

I smile as I begin my Monday at the National Conference of State Legislatures. I have spent my summer living with a fellow Stanford undergrad, Olayemi Ajao (Chemical Engineering, 2021), and this past week got to give her a tour of the office building I’ve grown to love. The front of the NCSL building is paved with cement blocks, each listing a different state and the year it was founded. I always make sure to walk by the New York State block, for while I may be thousands of miles from home, I get to spend my days working to support the State of New York government, and giving back to my home.

Michigan census tracts visualized in the application QGIS.

Olayemi smiles as we enter the NCSL building to the tune of cheers from the staff about the The South Dakota v. Wayfair Supreme Court Case ruling in favor of states collecting online sales taxes, and supportive handshakes from my bosses at the Center for Legislative Strengthening (Brian, John, and Jon), who can’t wait to discuss potential projects, new ways to manipulate QGIS mapping software, or teach me a new digital tool I can use.

At the end of our tour, Olayemi is gifted with as much NCSL swag as a girl could want and I begin my day. I open my desktop and see many .shp ("shape") files clustered together for my summer project. [A shapefile contains geographic boundaries and is used to create analytical maps]. This summer project is working to create a database for state legislators to access the demographic and economic breakdowns of their districts. As I learned within my first two days of working, no such database exists, and most state representatives legislate without knowing the exact economic and demographic breakdown of their district.

Most state representatives legislate without knowing the exact economic and demographic breakdown of their district.

This lack of knowledge on behalf of state representatives is problematic as public trust in the government is at a historic low. Only 18% of Americans today say they can trust the government to do what is right. By increasing the transparency between state legislators and their districts by increasing the knowledge state legislators have about their district, NCSL and the Center for Legislative Strengthening can work to decrease the divide between elected officials and their districts and hopefully decrease the kind of antagonism towards government that we see in 2018.

NCSL featured me in their weekly digest! Check it out! (Photo credit: Kate T. Parker)

After lunch, I rush to a meeting with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting team, with whom the Center for Legislative Strengthening is working on a joint project. In this project, I work to decrease the disconnect between citizens and their state representatives through informing voters about their representatives and candidates for state offices. Currently, I am researching candidates and their backgrounds, ethnicities, and more for publication by NCSL in an effort to educate voters for the midterm elections.

At 5:15, I get a text from Olayemi, letting me know she is outside, and I text back letting her know I can recite the educational background of every candidate running for office in Iowa. I gather my stuff and exit, preparing myself for the journey that will be tomorrow.

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