US Based Program
With the help of our local partner organizations in each of the six countries, and with the support of the Public Affairs Office of the respective US embassies, African Elections Fellows were selected from the many who responded to our call for applications . The resulting delegations included both senior officials and young activists from a wide range of backgrounds including civil servants, judges, journalists, academics, civil society activists, and several young elected officials.
US-based Programs were held over three weeks in May 2011 and May 2012. During their stay in the US, Fellows had the opportunity to interact with numerous academics and practitioners from the public and private sectors with intimate knowledge of elections. Programs began on the campus of the University of Florida, in Gainesville. A series of lectures and presentations exposed the group to research on elections by academic specialists, both in the US and in comparative perspective. In addition, presentations by each country delegation provided an opportunity for comparative discussion of key issues.
Beyond academic exchanges, the stay in Gainesville allowed for hands-on exposure to the decentralized nature of the American electoral system. This included a day-long visit with the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections and her staff, and an opportunity to try the equipment and experience the mechanics of the voting and counting process. Fellows also met with political pollsters and candidate consultants, civic leaders in the area of voting rights, civil rights and community activists, and members of the media. Panels with elected officials, including city council members and Gainesville’s mayor, provided an opportunity to discuss strategies for running for election and of governing as an elected official at the local level.
Fellows then traveled to Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee, where they met with state elections officials, voting rights and elections stakeholders, and campaign consultants. Delegations had the opportunity to meet the Florida Secretary of State, members of the State House of Representatives and of the State Senate, visit the Florida Division of Elections, and engage with a panel of political journalists at the Florida Press Association. Of particular interest was lively discussion about the much-contested 2000 Presidential election in Florida, with a panel of people who had been involved in that historic event. This included Judge Nikki Clark, currently of the Florida First District Court of Appeals, who had presided over one of the important legal challenges to the elections in 2000. Judge Clark’s experience in the settlement of electoral disputes, which she continued to share as a member of the return delegation to the Sahel and when she personally hosted the second African fellows delegation in 2012, were particularly valued.