Policy Perspectives
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008 Government Employment, Health System Reform, Presidential Elections   Volume 4 Issue 10  
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State and Local Governments Not Flourishing
Health System Reform Summit
This Time Around, the West is Different
House Bill 40
Performance Management: A Difficult Challenge
State Election Web Sites – Can I find it? Can I use it? Does it help?
Graduate Fair for Working Professionals
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May 29, 2008

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State Election Web Sites – Can I find it? Can I use it? Does it help?
by W. David Patton, CPPA Director

The 2008 General Election has demonstrated the power of the Internet as a tool for political campaigns as well as election information and portends increased use of the Internet in future elections. Individuals are turning to the Web to find information on candidates, political positions, and policy choices. They are also looking to the Internet for information about the election that would traditionally be found in newspapers or through a call to the County Clerk’s office. States that provide election information in a clear, usable format do a great service to their citizens and may also be saving a lot of taxpayer dollars.
 
The Pew Research Center and American Life Project recently issued a report, Being Online is Not Enough, on how well state election websites are doing to provide needed information for citizens looking for election information. The assessment specifically looked at ease of access to election information, content, and usability of that information. From information gleaned from past elections, most citizen calls for election information pertained to voting location (42% of questions) and registration concerns (33%). Citizens can also find unbiased answers to questions about candidates and propositions on the ballot through state websites. When states provide easily accessible information about these two major voting concerns, they can ease voter confusion about whether they are registered to vote and where their polling place is located. States can also eliminate thousands of telephone calls costing an estimated $10 or more per call when citizens can find their information online.
 
The Pew report ranked the states based on seven criteria evaluating the usability of state elections websites. These criteria included the following:
  1. Web presence: How easily can users find the official state elections website?
  2. Navigation and Information Architecture: Is it easy to navigate to key topics?
  3. Content: Is the content understandable to users?
  4. Homepage: Is the homepage organized and understandable?
  5. Accessibility: Can users with disabilities utilize the site effectively?
  6. Search: Is there an open search field available on each page of the site?
  7. Site tools: Are tools for looking up registration, finding a poll location, etc. intuitive and efficient?
Given these criteria, the report noted that most state sites did pretty well with Web presence and content, but fared poorly on homepage design, accessibility, and site tools. The specific rankings showed the top three election sites to be Iowa (77/100), Texas (75/100) and Utah (72/100). The three lowest state sites were New Hampshire (33/100), Mississippi (35/100) and Illinois (36/100).
 
Given Utah’s high ranking, I thought I would test the system by searching for the State’s election website by searching on Google for “Utah voter registration.” The first hit was the State of Utah Elections Office that has six simple questions as links on the homepage. Selecting “Am I registered to vote?” I was asked to select the county where I live, then sent to the County Clerk’s home page where navigation became a little more difficult. After finding “verify your voter registration” link, I was sent back to the State of Utah Elections Office to complete a brief form that included name, birth date, and a brief address identifier. Submitting this form online produced a verification of voter registration, my precinct, poll location and a sample ballot – all very useful information, but the navigation could have been more direct by not going to the County Clerk website.
 
The Pew report suggested two main areas that states could focus on to improve their election websites. First, improve the homepage designs to be clearer – removing historical information and highlight tasks important to voters (this was well done on the Utah site). Second, improve the site tools such as interfacing basic tools like polling place locators and ballot generators in readily accessible ways. The intermediate link to the County Clerk Web site acted as a barrier to finding this information on the Utah election site.


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