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The peaceful transition of power every four or eight years is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. To make that transition happen, it's up to the country's population to partake in its democratic privilege and vote for the next president of the United States.
Each presidential election brings many questions to voters, beyond which candidate shares their beliefs and principles. For some, it could be their first time voting. For others, questions could range from where the voting stations are located and if they are registered to vote.
To help the American public answer these questions is the nonpartisan, nonprofit Election Protection, a nationwide organization staffed mostly by volunteers at inbound call centers that answer thousands of phone calls during the election cycle at its 866-OUR-VOTE number, as well as Spanish- and Asian-speaking lines. While calls vary in quantity throughout the year, Election Protection has to handle a huge spike leading up to a presidential election. The nonprofit is already seeing an uptick, with daily calls reaching the thousands, and it is expecting up to 100,000 calls nationwide the day before and day of the Nov. 8 vote. To combat the influx, Election Protection relies on call center technology to help answer and route the flood of calls.
"The majority of our operators are volunteers, so it's extremely important that the technology helps them with the calls," said Rosemarie Clouston, national coordinator for Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that helps run Election Protection. "The volunteers are not voting-rights lawyers or immersed in the election process. As much as we can make the technological aspect of routing calls and making sure calls get to volunteers as easy as possible -- that's really key for us."
Addressing voters' concerns
Six months before the election, groups of law firms across the country provide pro bono research into voting laws for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The research is turned into frequently asked questions by state and distributed to the volunteers at the 22 call centers across the country. If a volunteer can't help a caller, there are call center captains at each location to provide more support.
Rosemarie Cloustonnational coordinator, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
"The questions we hear the most are things like, 'Where's my polling place?' And 'How do I get an absentee ballot?'" Clouston said. "We also have a lot of voters checking their registration status. And if they're not registered, we give them information on how to register. On Election Day, the questions run the gamut, from having the right identification to needing directions."
Each election cycle brings with it its own unique blend of new challenges or questions. In the 2014 midterm election, new voter laws in Texas inundated Election Protection with calls. The last presidential election in 2012 saw some of the most dramatic challenges voters have faced, as Hurricane Sandy ravaged the New York and New Jersey area, displacing people and flooding voting stations.
"Up until and on Election Day, there was a lot of confusion on where voters were able to vote and what their options were," Clouston said. "Election Protection got a huge spike in call volume because of the impact on voting infrastructure."
To combat the spike in calls and provide timely service for those voters, Election Protection routed calls on the fly to other call centers in the country, using call center technology provided by Genesys. Election Protection added Genesys to its call center platform after being unable to handle the influx of calls during the 2004 election.
Based in Daly City, Calif., Genesys is a customer experience and call center technology company.
"One of the flexibility points we have is, while I'm able to do routing for the pre-election period through the Genesys platform, we contract Genesys to map out and program routing for Election Day because it's such a larger and more technical operation," Clouston said. "It's great to have that flexibility to do that."
On Election Day, a Genesys employee will be at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of Election Protection, providing technical support.
"The last two elections, I gave them reassurance and pulled reports every four hours," said Samantha Cushing, manager of customer success at Genesys. "We pull those real-time reports, and someone turns them into a press release detailing how many calls have come from various states and what issues we're seeing."
Turning the calls into data
After the election, using the data from the call center technology, Genesys and Election Protection produce annual reports that detail what issues were fielded and how many calls were generated from the different lines. The reports also indicate which states and polling stations were most active.
"In 2014, during the midterm, there was a new law where students couldn't use a student ID on election," Cushing said. "We got flooded with calls in Texas and were able to reroute the calls to a different group. We live-monitor the volume coming in, and if hold time reaches more than a minute, we can switch them to another call center."
Given how each election cycle brings different emphasis on different states, Election Protection is already figuring which states may provide increased call volume.
"Given the attention paid to Pennsylvania, we're expecting a higher call volume," Clouston said. "It's something we are ready for if we need to expand capacity and send calls from Pennsylvania to a second call center."
Like other call center technology companies, such as LiveOps, Avaya and inContact Inc., Genesys is cloud-based, which proves vital when going from a couple dozen calls per day to north of 100,000.
"This election season could eclipse 1 million calls," said Steve Rutledge, senior vice president of product management and marketing at Genesys. "Being a cloud solution, we can scale as needed. Just like in the commercial space, there are certain times of year with a spike in business."
While the Election Protection call centers will be inundated with calls on Monday, Nov. 7, and Tuesday, Nov. 8, Clouston and others are confident that no curious voter will be waiting long to have their questions answered. And if you have questions or concerns when it comes to your vote, don't hesitate to call 866-OUR-VOTE.
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