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Want More People to Vote? Try Putting More Information Online, Survey Suggests

BY Nick Judd | Monday, November 7 2011

Tomorrow is a big day in Ohio, where voters are expected to defeat a ballot measure called Issue 2 and, in so doing, overturn legislation that severely curtails the collective bargaining rights of public-sector employees. If they can figure out where to go to vote.

Forty-three percent of all voters under the age of 45 would start looking for voting information online, according to new poll numbers from the Voting Info Project, an initiative backed by the Pew Center on the States and a bipartisan team including people from the progressive New Organizing Institute and the Republican-leaning online communications firm Engage. In addition, 57 percent of currently registered voters said they would look up what was on their ballot before voting, according to the project's poll results.

Thirty-eight percent of all voters surveyed reported that if they were going online to look up election information, they would start with a search engine. Meanwhile, most elections information has usually been cooped up on the websites of secretaries of state.

Part of the idea behind VIP is that voting should be easier for lazy working Americans. One of the things VIP partner Google did in 2010 was to add a link to a VIP-powered polling place locator below Google's search bar, for example.

"Voters are really consumers of information like anyone else," said David Becker, Pew's director of election initiatives. "And what we're seeing through these polling results are expectations that voters have about where they're receiving this information."

"People just don't know where to go for this information," said Aaron Strauss, a senior analyst at opinion research firm The Mellman Group, passing along the results of the survey. "A few said they would even go to the Federal Election Commission, which has none of this information."

The survey was conducted by phone among 859 registered voters between Oct. 6 and Oct. 9.

Going as far back as 2008, the Voting Info Project has been trying to make it easier to find polling place locations online. In simple terms, the project's goal is to make information about a voter's polling place and what's on the ballot as easy to find via Google as that voter's nearest Thai restaurant and what's on the menu. The project, which will have data for six states in 2011 — including Ohio — and is up to about 40 states for 2012, is also spreading a standard data format for information about elections. Each state that participates gins up a data export from their election system to VIP, which offers data dumps and application programming interfaces for developers to use.

VIP's bread and butter is information about polling place locations, but the project's Matthew Morse told me Friday that staffers hope to expand available data to include information about candidates as well as "rules of the road," for instance, if a voter needs to bring their ID to the polls.

This post has been updated and corrected to fix attribution for Aaron Strauss, senior analyst at The Mellman Group, .