Thinking Outside the Ballot Box
For most people, the voting process seems straightforward: Show up at an assigned location, check a few boxes and voilà. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of legwork that goes into making sure everything runs smoothly on Election Day. These UB alumni contribute their expertise to the campaign trail and beyond so votes can be cast with confidence.
illustration: Joel Kimmel
Stephanie L. Binetti, B.A. ’09
founder, Binetti Political Strategies
What she does: Binetti co-manages a full-service political consulting firm with her husband, David Kosak. Binetti says they do it all for their clients—including Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—from triple-checking the spelling on emails and bumper stickers to putting up yard signs long after the sun goes down.
On the pressures of the job: “People put a lot of trust in us to make the right moves throughout the campaign because every decision leads up to that final moment when your candidate either wins or loses. On election night, it’s hard to sit still as the results are reported.”
Chrysovalantis “Chrys” Kefalas, J.D. ’04
Republican candidate, U.S. Senate
What he does: Kefalas is running to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) in the U.S. Senate, and if he makes it, he’ll be the first openly gay Republican to enter Congress. In the meantime, he also works full time as vice president of executive communications for the National Association of Manufacturers.
On campaign fundraising: “The amount of money you have to raise and how much time you have to spend raising it is astounding. It’s incredibly energizing meeting voters and getting out across Maryland, but raising money limits the time to do that substantially—and without those donor dollars, you can’t compete.”
Kevin Keene, B.S. ’92, J.D. ’97
election director, Harford County (Maryland) Government
What he does: Keene and his team make sure eligible Harford County residents are registered to vote and that elections are conducted in a fair and impartial manner. If a close election causes a recount, he’s also the go-to guy to manage interactions with candidates, their supporters and their lawyers.
On some unexpected duties: “While most directors are in the office, my deputy and I are out delivering and setting up equipment, putting up signs, working lines at early voting [locations] or whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Jamal K. Jackson, B.A. ’13
election judge trainer, Baltimore City
What he does: Jackson works with UB’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy to train election judges on how to use voting equipment and how to follow procedures. He also visits polling locations on Election Day to monitor judges and to make sure they’re complying with the rules.
On why his job is crucial: “I can remember traveling to a polling location to monitor and observe and being utterly surprised to see that the election judges had not properly secured polling machines [which makes them subject to physical tampering]. This is an absolute no-no that we stressed over and over again in training class.”
Nikki Baines Charlson, J.D. ’96
deputy state administrator, Maryland State Board of Elections
What she does: Charlson has a role in every part of the election process, including helping people file for office and register to vote, implementing new voting systems—like an easier-to-use ballot—and troubleshooting voter complaints.
On the buildup to Election Day: “No two elections are the same, although I think sometimes it would be nice if they were. ... The most nail-biting part of my job is during the weeks leading up to an election. The final pieces of the election puzzle are falling into place, but there’s not much time left to find a ‘missing piece’ or resolve an issue. By the time Election Day comes, it’s showtime and there’s been no dress rehearsal.”
Sean Pumphrey, B.A. ’10, M.P.A. ’14
contractor, Election Software and Support
What he does: Pumphrey is the on-the-ground serviceman who installs and repairs voting machines at polling locations. In his role, he travels often and has to keep two types of customers satisfied: the election officials and the voting public.
On a predictable question: “Sadly, if you work in this business, you often hear the hackneyed question of whether or not you are there to ‘rig’ the elections. On the other side of the coin, no one seems to ask the same question of campaigns, which in some cases are intentionally misleading.”