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As wild as the 2016 presidential election and the preceding campaigns were, it’s hard to believe that the 2018 midterm elections are practically upon us. And yet, nearly half of primary elections have already taken place. So what’s in store for America in November? Here we’ll examine the trends we’ve seen so far from the primary elections.

  • Of the 194 Democratic seats in the House, 185 of those are considered safe.  Of the 236 Republican seats in the House, 174 are believed to go safely back into GOP hands. 

  • Retirements will play a major role in 2018.  There are 32 Members of the House of Representatives retiring this year including the most high profile Member of all, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Add 14 resignations in the House and you’ve got nearly 50 seats up for grabs.  On the Senate side, only 3 retirements have been announced on top of 3 resignations. The death of Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York in March leaves an additional vacancy in the House. 

  • Of the hundreds of Congressional races scheduled for November, dozens are considered competitive races according to ratings watchers. Of the competitive races, 17 are likely to lean Democratic, 20 are considered tossups, and 57 are likely to lean Republican.

  • The anti-establishment wave felt during the 2016 elections continues, though perhaps not as dramatically. For progressives, the biggest shakeup came during Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking victory against 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary. Far left candidates also won two gubernatorial primaries: Ben Jealous in Maryland and Rep. Jared Polis in Colorado.

  • Another shocking upset came from North Carolina’s 9th District GOP primary where three-term incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger was defeated by newcomer Mark Harris of Charlotte, NC. In a district once considered solidly Republican, the GOP nominee will face off against Charlotte Democrat and former marine Dan McCready in an election now considered a “toss up” by many analysts. Mark Harris, who considers himself a populist in the mold of President Donald Trump, mobilized evangelical and conservative voters. 

  • Women are running, and winning, in larger numbers than ever before. Of all the candidates running in the midterms nearly 600 are women.  469 female candidates for seats in the House, 53 for the Senate, and 73 women are running for governorships. More than half of these candidates have already made it through their primaries, and so far, more women have won than lost.

These are just a few of the key takeaways from the primary season so far, but it looks like it’s shaping up to be another interesting fall and a wild November.

More than half of primary elections have taken place in states across the country ending blackout periods for many Members of Congress. However, even as many Members are coming out of blackout periods, time is quickly running out before blackouts begin again on August 8th. Here are a few tips for maximizing your communication efforts during this open period of time. 

Live stream town hall events

One great way to connect and engage with your constituents is through town halls, including virtual town halls. Virtual town hall services, such as Access Live, are an easy, scalable solution for reaching even large and diverse districts and communities. Studies have shown that a single virtual town hall event can increase approval ratings on a specific issue by as much as 38%. Access Live allows you to dial out to your constituents directly, stream live to your website and social media networks, and interact with your audience through live polling and taking questions directly from callers. With live support from the IQ and Broadnet teams, and the ability to sync your data directly into your CRM, Access Live events are the easiest virtual town hall solution on the market and are ideal for reaching your community before blackouts begin again. We recommend holding one virtual town hall per week every week until the next blackout begins on August 8th. 

Email outreach

It might seem obvious, but one of the easiest and effective ways to reach your constituents is through email outreach. Now is a great time to let your constituents know about the biggest issues you’ve worked on this term, about the issues that you are committed to continuing to pursue, and to collect feedback from your district on how you’ve been doing so far. Communication shouldn’t be a one way street. Be sure to include surveys, embed rich content, and ask for feedback in your outreaches.

Optimize website content

Now is a great time to take a critical eye to your website and make sure the content is as good as it should be. If you’re reaching out to your constituents via the two steps above, you will likely see an increase in traffic to your website. You’ll want to be sure you’re putting your best foot forward in representing the work you and your office are doing to promote the interests of your constituency. 

Clean up your data

The pre-election blackout will be here before you know it and your outreach needs to land.  Clean up your data now and make sure your messaging makes it to your constituents’ inboxes. Work on expanding your email subscriptions through email marketing and virtual town halls so that when blackouts hit, you will still be able to reach a large segment of your district.

These next six weeks will be critical in getting in front of your constituents before blackouts begin again. To speak with a sales representative about sending out email communications or planning your next Access Live virtual town hall event, email iq.info@leidos.com or call us at 703-206-0030. 

As the provider of the leading CRM in the public sector, the Leidos DSI team deals with many Federal and state agencies who are struggling to efficiently manage their FOIA and public information request (PIR) processes. For agencies who may be looking to improve their FOIA management and customer service, here are five tips that we think will help your organization improve and simplify FOIA request management.

Proactive data posts

One way to help ease the burden of public information requests on your agency is to proactively publish unclassified materials that may be of interest to the public. One great example of this was the CIA’s decision in 2017 to publish thousands of recently de-classified files from the Kennedy assassination. Once they decided to de-classify the material, they may have been inundated with FOIA requests from journalists or citizens wanting to review the materials, but proactively making the documents available online made it accessible to the public without a FOIA request. Committing to proactive posts—particularly of files that may be of special interest to the public—ultimately results in a constantly growing library of documents available to the public online and can save your agency valuable time and staff resources that otherwise would be tied up in information requests.

Modern IT Tools

Making the request process simpler for both the requestor and your staff can also go a long way in saving your agency’s finite resources. There are many software solutions available that can help streamline and automate the request tracking, payment collecting and overall back and forth involved in processing and filling FOIA and PIR requests. However, even with these resources available, there are still many state and local agencies that are tracking and managing information requests in spreadsheets. Upgrading to a system that can take a request through your agency’s website, auto-assign it to a staff member, estimate and collect fees and provide a reference number to the agency and the requestor makes a huge difference in the efficiency and quality of the experience for the requestor and the organization. If you are interested in learning more about how software solutions can automate this process for you, take a demo of Intranet Quorum.

Disciplined Communication

Another big key to improving the FOIA process for both agency staff and the public is committing to disciplined communication. What this means is having a set of standards for communicating with the public about their requests and making sure those standards are consistently applied across your organization. Something as simple as acknowledging an incoming request when it’s received can make a big difference in the requester’s experience so implementing agency-wide communication guidelines can ensure each requestor has a positive experience. If your agency is using a modern tracking system, arming a requestor with their request’s tracking number and the ability to check in and see live status updates can eliminate many follow up communications and help ease the mind of an anxious reporter or other member of the public. Additionally, if you are communicating back and forth, it’s a best practice to record all of your communications in one repository where it can be referenced along with the request itself.

The spirit of the Freedom of Information Act is about government transparency. We know this is not always easy, but we believe it is important. One way to make sure that you’re complying with the nature of that stature, more than simply the letter of the law, is to think of your role as an advocate for the requestor by cooperating with them to try to understand what information they are looking for and doing the work to help fulfill the request. We know not everyone is a FOIA expert, and they may make a request that is not quite clear in scope or directive. We recommend whenever you encounter an unclear request to reach out directly to the requester, using plain language, and try to understand as best as you can exactly what they are looking for. This can help focus your work, foster good will with the requestor and help to avoid litigation or disputes later on.  

Disclosure Standards

Every agency, whether required to by law or not, should define and publish a “foreseeable harm” standard that is specific to their agency to ensure both openness and protection of information that could be harmful if improperly released. What we mean by this is clearly identify the types of materials that would be harmful to release to the public that your staff can refer to when they receive a request. A well-defined policy makes it easier for your staff to make informed decisions regarding disclosure while working with the public. When filling a request, be sure to confirm that requested documents that are classified continue to be properly classified, rather than assuming their status has not changed. Lastly, releasing documents to the requestors as they become available rather than waiting until the entire request is filled can help ease the mind of the requestor and show that your agency is working on their request.

Clear Fee Structure

Processing fees is a big part of FOIA processing which can be simplified by implementing a few best practices. First, agencies should provide costs estimates as soon as possible after receiving and reviewing a request. Having a defined pricing structure clearly listed on your website can help mitigate back and forth between the requestor and agency as well. Secondly, each agency should apply a minimum fee for small requests.  One federal agency does not charge for any request that they estimate to be less than $50. This makes it easy for their staff to process less labor intensive requests more quickly. Finally, agency staff should be empowered to waive fees above and beyond their outlined policies.  There may be a time when a staff member assesses that waiving a fee may be a more efficient means to accommodating the requester and avoiding a dispute. Providing flexibility for your staff to make that call in certain situations can help them manage a situation before it escalates.

Hopefully these tips will be useful for your agency in efficiently managing the FOIA process. For more information on how Intranet Quorum can help you improve public relations and service fulfillment at your agency, please reach out to us at iq.info@leidos.com