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Six Great Sites for Getting Your Vote Counted

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 20 2008

When it comes time to find out how to vote this Election Day, the somewhat sad fact is that trying to get that information from your state election officials is likely to leave you frustrated. A recent Pew study found that state administrators' website are often tough to find, out of date, and simply unhelpful, which leaves local governments are spending money to answer calls for basic voting information at a time when they can hardly spare the cash. Citizens, meanwhile, are left desperate for information. In fact, more than half of the contacts to the 866-OUR-VOTE election protection hotline aren't problem reports at all. They're straightforward questions about navigating the voting process. Read on for six websites that can actually help America vote in 2008.

6. Get the 411 from the League of Women Voters

Knowing what you'll be facing when you head to the polls can make you one empowered voter. And with Vote411 from the League of Women Voters, you'll arrive at your polling place knowing everything from whether you'll be voting on DREs, aka electronic voting machines, to what it takes to be a poll worker in your state. If you need to show ID at the polls, the site gives you a handy list of what qualifies as acceptable proof that you are who you say you are. Not sure who you're voting for yet? The League offers a useful printable guide detailing how John McCain, Barack Obama, and -- bonus! -- Ralph Nader responded to their questionnaires. It's not the most exciting site in the world, but at least now you've got the 411.

5. Map Your Plan of Attack

Some of us are visual learners. If you need to see your polling place on a map and get driving directions to it, you're in luck. Google Maps has teamed up with a handful of states to standardize polling place information; for other states, they'll be applying their Google know-how to scraping the web for the data. But you'll have to stay tuned. This was set to launch last week, but we're still waiting. Patiently. For now. When it does launch, though, you might have a street view of where you need to vote and help finding the nearest coffee shop. Voter information tied to the rest of the web has the potential to be full-on awesome.

4. Cut Class and Go Vote

Students in Virginia's Montgomery County were recently surprised to get notices saying that casting a ballot where they go to school could, if not their permanent residence, get their student funding snatched away. (More here.) GoVote, from Credo Mobile and the New Organizing Institute, helps students find out if voting where they study indeed means giving up claim to their home state. But the site's not just for college kids. Anyone can use it, and handy Spanish translations are offered for every page so you'll know for sure dónde votar. The site takes an innovative Wikipedia approach to civics, allowing anyone to edit voting details (though changes are, rather reasonably, moderated). The neatest feature, though might be that the data behind the site is offered up in XML format, so if you want to build out a site decked out in your school colors, grab the feed and go for it.

3. Clear Your Record at Rock the Vote's Election Center

One of the oddest aspect of voting in America is what experts call the "crazy quilt" of laws governing the voting rights of the once incarcerated. Don't be so quick to dismiss felon voting rights. In some cities, it can be a sizable chunk of the population -- and remember, Martha Stewart is technically a felon. Rock the Vote's Election Center bravely delves into the morass of state rules that apply to those who have spent time in behind bars. And the site also offers the chance to make a solemn promise that you will in fact vote, and to lean on the people in your social network to do the same. Vote pledges might seem like a weak tool, but experts say they work.

2. Not at Home? Vote Absentee

Leaving on a jet plane come November 4th? Whether you're going on vacation or going to Ohio to knock on doors, you can still get your vote counted back home. The volunteer-run Long Distance Voter has a one page list of how long you can procrastinate before asking for an absentee ballot in your state. Drill down, and there are detailed voter guides for each state -- though you'll have to wade through a pile of voting information to get to what the long-distance voter really needs. Permanently homebound? They'll help you register to get an absentee ballot sent to you whenever there's an election happening. Not being able to make it to the polling place on the second Tuesday in November doesn't mean that your vote can't be counted.

1. For Privates and Expats

Whether you left the U.S. for that great new job or to, you know, depend her against all aggressors in foreign wars (and thanks for that, by the way), your vote can still find its way stateside. The Defense Department is responsible for assisting overseas citizens both military and civilian to vote, and their Federal Voting Assistance Program site helps make sense of the sometimes confusing thicket of local rules for casting a ballot from far away. FVAP, though, is pretty clunky, and voting through the DOD might not be everyone's cup of tea. The Overseas Vote Foundation is a Pew-backed project also helping citizens abroad to vote. And through a partnership with FedEx called Express Your Vote, they can set you up with a discount on shipping your ballot back home that ranges from $23 from Chile to absolutely free from China.

What excellent resources for getting people to the polls are you looking at or working on? Be sure to leave pointers to your voting favorites in the comments below.