Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Official Election Sources Don't Give Voters What They Want, Study Finds

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, April 3 2013

L.A. County Elections Website

A recently released study of election websites concludes that where site design is concerned, elections officials are from Mars and voters are from Venus.

Dana Chisnell, a researcher who specializes in the "user experience" of voting, led a team that examined 147 county election websites from around the country in the run-up to the November 2012 elections. The researchers conducted a voter survey and then 41 remote usability sessions with volunteers, looking at the questions they had about voting and how they were able to find information on official voting websites.

Chisnell's conclusion is that election officials aren't offering what voters need.

"Election officials see elections as a process," Chisnell said, "from registering to vote, learning what's on the ballot, to finding the polling place and getting to the polling place."

"For voters," she continued, "what they care about is why they're voting."

Voters first want to know who's on the ballot, and only then are concerned about how to register and how to get to the polls. They approach the various steps of the voting process in a completely different order. Voters want to know "who's on the ballot." After that, they want to know how to vote in person, what the deadlines are, and — even in states without a voter ID law — what kind of identification they'll need at the polling place.

"They had heard so much about voter ID," Chisnell said, "that they wanted something definitive — 'No, you don't need one,' or 'yes, you do.'"

Chisnell's report recommends that officials redesign their websites to focus on answering these sorts of questions first, and speaking in the language of voters rather than officialese terms spelled out in places like the Help America Vote Act. Websites should clearly address questions like "Who's on the ballot?" "Who are my representatives?" "What is my district?" "Where do I vote?" and "Do I need ID?"

Officials also need to concern themselves with more technical questions like what keywords to use in website metadata, Chisnell says. Because they often don't do that now, people using a search engine to find out about an upcoming election are often likely to encounter the website of an advocacy group, interest group or a political party before they see the county's presumably more impartial information. To counter this, elections officials need to optimize.

"Elections has become more and more of an IT job," she said.

Her report's statistics bear this out: Of 3,057 counties or county-equivalents, her team found, 966 did not have an election website. However, 94 percent of Americans live in a county that does have an election website.

Elections officials agree that how they structure information online is becoming increasingly important as the web becomes a bigger and bigger part of daily life.

"The recommendation of fewer words and more images [or] simpler text is particularly valuable," said Dean Logan, registrar-recorder and county clerk for Los Angeles County. County officials are planning to revise their website, he said.

"I think it's the fastest-growing source of information out there [for voters]," he explained.

That truism has a notable exception, according to Chisnell's research: Minority voters, she found, are less likely to have an informative website to rely on.

"Taking apart the website data we saw, just in terms of information richness on websites for mostly minority counties, there were fewer items on the page," Chisnell said.

"We're wondering if there is some kind of information desert" when it comes to minority voters, she said later on in a conversation with techPresident.

She added that it wasn't clear what the cause was, and there was no indication that there was a correlation with county size or resources. One possibility, she suggested, is that those election departments are more likely to communicate with voters through other means, like outreach programs or town-hall meetings.

It is important to reach out to voters through multiple channels, says Tammy Patrick, federal compliance officer for the elections department in Maricopa County, Ariz. That's because there are still many voters who do not have reliable Internet or smartphone access. And through projects like the Voting Information Project, search engines like Google and Bing can incorporate official data into search results — both removing steps for the voter and taking user interface concerns out of the hands of elections officials.

That said, she called the research findings "eye opening."

The research, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, comes at an opportune time: the Obama administration recently announced the formation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, assembled to address the many problems that voters reported with long lines and confusing information from officials.

Chisnell's research will be published as one installment in an ongoing series of field guides for election officials later this year.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

Civic Hackers Call on de Blasio to Fill Technology Vacancies

New York City technology advocates on Wednesday called on the de Blasio administration to fill vacancies in top technology policy positions, expressing some frustration at the lack of a leadership team to implement a cohesive technology strategy for the city. GO

China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.

GO

wednesday >

Another Co-Opted Hashtag: #MustSeeIran

The Twitter hashtag #MustSeeIran was created to showcase Iran's architecture, landscapes, and would-be tourist destinations. It was then co-opted by activists to bring attention to human rights abuses and infringements. Now Twitter is home to two starkly different portraits of a country. GO

What Has the EU Ever Done For Us?: Countering Euroskepticism with Viral Videos and Monty Python

Ahead of the May 25 European Elections, the most intense campaigning may not be by the candidates or the political parties. Instead, some of the most passionate campaigns are more grassroots efforts focused on for a start stirring up the interest of the European electorate. GO

At NETmundial Brazil: Is "Multistakeholderism" Good for the Internet?

Today and tomorrow Brazil is hosting NETmundial, a global multi-stakeholder meeting on the future of Internet governance. GO

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

More