Being Online is Not Enough

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As more and more citizens start depending on the Internet to find information, it’s troubling to learn that state Web sites responsible for educating voters about elections are not nearly as user friendly as they could be. The Pew Center on the States just released their report Being Online is Not Enough: State Elections Web Sites, where they look at the election Web sites of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and gauge them on their level of effectiveness and ease of use. The Pew Center applied a usability score, ranging from 1 to 100, to each site. They also looked at how easy users can find the sites and then how well they can find important voting information.

The study found, among other things, that popular search engines such as Google have a difficult time finding many of the states’ voting sites using common search terms.  Iowa received the report’s highest score (77 percent), while New Hampshire received the report’s lowest marks (33 percent). It also found that 34 states have a poll locator tool, but only 11 sites will identify a polling location for any address in the state. And just over half the state sites allow users to verify their registration online.

“There are simple things outlined in this report that every state can do to improve services and make the democratic process easier,” said Michael Caudell-Feagan, director of Pew’s Make Voting Work project.

Here’s some good news: Pew, Google and state and local election officials worked together to develop and launch the Voting Information Project, a standard format to easily collect and distribute voting information. As the project’s site says, election officials can now use this open and non-proprietary data format to share their voting information securely. And they can now provide voters with official information on polling place locations, ballot content and information about registration and absentee ballots. Now that’s some Web 2.0 technology in action!

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