Director of Research and Analysis, Citizens Count

Hampton, New Hampshire

Did you ever look at a ballot and not have any idea who the candidates are in a given race? Or wonder about bills pending in the Legislature? Or want to make your opinion known to your government representatives? In New Hampshire, voters can turn to Citizens Count online for information. Anna Brown serves as the organization’s director of research and analysis.

Foundation: What is Citizens Count?

Anna: Citizens Count is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is providing unbiased information about issues and candidates in New Hampshire.

Foundation: How do you go about gathering that information?

Anna: A lot of it is publicly available on the New Hampshire legislative website. For a lot of issues, we try to reach out to experts on both sides of the aisle—maybe nonprofits that are advocating on one side or the other. We always try to get both sides.

Then, when it comes to profiling candidates, we survey them every two years, when they’re running for office—that’s direct outreach to them—then we follow up by email and by phone. Anything candidates want to tell us about where they stand, we’ll put it on our website.

Foundation: How did you get into this line of work?

Anna: I went to UNH and got a degree in political science and a master’s degree in justice studies. When I was in my junior year, the Live Free or Die Alliance, which is the former name of Citizens Count, spoke at my college about state policy. After I got my master’s degree, when I was looking around for a job, I just wrote them a letter because I remembered them and thought what they were doing was really cool. They brought me on, and I became their first full-time employee.

Foundation: What are your roles and responsibilities?

Anna: We are a small but plucky nonprofit, so our staff is pretty small. We have four of us working full-time at this point. I’m doing the political wonk aspect of it. I oversee all the candidate profiling, and I’m also the one who’s reading and summarizing all the bills that go through. I also track statistics for our website internally.

Foundation: What about your work are you most passionate about?

Anna: I am most passionate about the information we provide on candidates through the survey. New Hampshire has 400 state representatives and 24 state senators, and in a given year they vote on about 1,000 bills. These are people who make decisions that impact us on a day-to-day basis—on everything from what your property tax rate is to how much the state is sending to schools, or whether there will be a gas tax or road-use fee. That’s a lot for your average person to track. So, for me, this is just such a beautiful opportunity to make a real, concrete impact on everybody’s daily life.

Foundation: How does the Lewis Family Foundation support you?

Anna: We’re a small nonprofit, so our funding is a mix of personal donations, grants, and sponsorships. Last year, we got a big donation from them that gives us the ability to use our website in the classroom. I am very grateful that the Lewis Family Foundation is one of our grant donors.

Foundation: What do you see as the future of your organization?

Anna: Long term, ideally, we’d like to build a model in New Hampshire that can be exported to other states and recreated all across the country. It would have to be a little different in every state, but that’s the dream.

Foundation: What do you do when you’re not working?

Anna: I am actually a mixed martial arts enthusiast. I’ve had a couple of amateur fights, I’m a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, and I enjoy training in Muay Thai and judo. It’s great stress relief, I’ll tell you that!

Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Anna: I met my husband fighting!

Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Chocolate, all the way! I’m a little distrustful of anyone who says vanilla.

Reading a book or seeing a movie?

That one is really tough. Listening to an audio book is actually my favorite.

Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?

Going for a hike

Talking or listening?

If I’m being completely honest, unfortunately probably talking.

Dogs or cats?

Cats! I love them both—I used to volunteer at an animal shelter. But I’m definitely more of a cat person.

Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?

Being interviewed