U. of Minnesota adds cybersecurity to election best practices program

University of Minnesota (Ken Wolter / Shutterstock)

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As election security remains a major issue in U.S. politics, the University of Minnesota has added cybersecurity as a focus for their online Certificate in Election Administration program.

Now in its third year, the CEA program offered by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs aims to cultivate a network of election administrators who are well-trained in new technologies and techniques, and well-versed in legal and policy challenges facing voting systems.

The program, intended for both current election officials intent on improving their skills and students who are looking to start new careers, assumes a mission to “identify, recruit and train the next generation of election officials nationwide,” said Doug Chapin, CEA faculty and steering committee member. The CEA program continues to strive towards building a “community of professionals with shared language and approaches to the problems they face,” said Chapin.

Chapin said the two biggest vulnerabilities facing the U.S. voting system are a perpetual under-resourcing of election officials and the growing politicization of election policy. “Part of what our program is designed to do is equip students to navigate those challenges,” he said.

The addition of cybersecurity is to keep pace with the most current issues facing election administration, said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School. The program’s leadership is also changing, he said, “to reflect the breadth of election administration.”

The CEA program recently assembled a steering committee, comprised of national experts in elections and experienced election administrators, charged with expanding curriculum and enrollment. The committee also provides the program with national outreach and strong connections to the professional election community, according to the program description.

The Certificate for Election Administration was created in response to the 2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration report, which urges “the integration of election administration in university curriculums of public administration.” Tammy Patrick, a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, said, “programs like the Humphrey School’s will help develop tomorrow’s professionals by preparing them to conduct elections in an environment that requires a comprehensive skill set.”

Jacobs said the “first-of-its-kind” program offers innovative, interactive online courses, a comprehensive curriculum, and insight into best practices and cutting-edge research in the field. He said the online nature of the program allows students to participate worldwide at their own pace, and also allows CEA to recruit experts from across the country as faculty.

To complete the Certificate in Election Administration, students must pass a 12-credit curriculum comprised of three required courses, a capstone project and two or more elective credits, according to curriculum requirements. Classes available to students include Survey of Election Administration, Elections and the Law, and Election Design, among others.

The school offers two independent but identical programs depending on the student’s experience. According to admissions criteria, a post-baccalaureate certificate requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, and an undergraduate certificate, which does not require a bachelor’s degree, instead requires that applicants have at least one year of experience in election administration or have previously completed 45 college credits. Both programs have the same course requirements. 

Courses are also available a la carte.

Jacobs said that the curriculum is aimed at recruiting and training new election officials, as well as enabling current election officials to improve their skills in cybersecurity, data management, and other emerging best practices. “Our goal is to support and equip the profession of election administration,” Jacobs said.

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