Review of 738 county election websites shows need for improvement

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

As we continue to look at all facets of open government this Sunshine Week, we highlight the importance of transparent websites in a healthy electoral system. Here to shine more light on a specific research done on the availability of election information on county websites to determine how prepared they are this election cycle, is Johanna Herman. Johanna is a local ballot measures editor on Ballotpedia.org.

In an average year, there are over 5,000 local ballot measures on ballots across the country. These include school district bond and tax votes, local LGBT issues, red light cameras, smoking bans, zoning, pensions,, marijuana taxes, to whether it is okay to raise backyard chickens.

To make informed choices, voters need to know what’s going to be on their ballot.

However, our review of 738 county election websites between January-March 2012 shows that as many as 32% of county websites do not display any local ballot measure election information.

Typically, it is the county election office that administers elections for the political jurisdictions within the county.  This includes school districts, cities, towns, villages, park and recreation districts, and other special districts, as well as the county itself.

Our study reviewed all 738 county election websites in 11 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. Nationally, there are 3,143 counties in the United States, so our study covered approximately 24% of them..

The study evaluated each county on seven points:

  • Whether the county had election website.
  • If there is an election website, it was assessed to see if it:
    • Provided the actual ballot questions in advance of the election?
    • Provided a complete list of what local ballot measures will be on the next election’s ballot?
    • Included an archive of past local ballot measure elections.
    • Whether it was easy to navigate
    • Whether it gave election results for the most recent election
      • If it did give election results, whether those were typically posted within 24 hours of the election

Quick highlights:

  • The State of Washington consistently had the best information, while Missouri consistently had the worst.
  • The county with the longest archival history was Benton County in Oregon. The county has election information as far back as 1852.
  • Of the 738 counties checked, only 505 (68%) had election information available on their local websites.
  • When it comes to ease of navigability, counties were evaluated on a scale of 1-5, 5 being a perfect score. Only 39 counties of 738 scored a “5”, meaning they were identified as having nearly perfect sites. 23 of those counties were in Washington State.

For a more detailed breakdown of how each state and each county did in the 7 assessed areas, take a look at “County election website evaluations.” Details for all 738 counties can be viewed by clicking on each state link below.

Legend

Ranked the highest in the category

Ranked the lowest in the category

State Number of Counties Election Website Current Election info Ballot text Issues List Updates Results Ballot Measure Archive
Arizona 15 86% 87% 33% 0% 100% 100%
California 58 98% 88% 88% 7% 96% 91%
Colorado 64 56% 57% 42% 3% 59% 45%
Florida 67 94% 98% 82% 0% 100% 94%
Illinois 102 56% 43% 34% 5% 69% 38%
Michigan 83 63% 64% 48% 27% 77% 60%
Missouri 114 35% 27% 21% 7% 33% 22%
Ohio 88 96% 96% 56% 88% 93% 81%
Oregon 36 69% 69% 58% 36% 72% 72%
Washington 39 100% 100% 95% 0% 100% 97%
Wisconsin 72 50% 43% 25% 1% 55% 51%
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