Being Online is Not Enough: State Elections Web Sites

  • October 16, 2008

As Election Day approaches, excitement is building for a presidential race expected to generate greater voter interest than we have seen in decades.

Many of those going to the polls on November 4 will be first-time voters who will need to know how to register to vote, where to vote and, likely, who and what are on the ballots for the 2008 elections. Today's technology should make it easier for these first-time voters. However, while it is clear that the Internet helps people search for and use information, it is not clear that voters will in fact find the information they are looking for or that the information they do find will help them vote in the coming elections.

Americans are increasingly incorporating the Internet into their daily lives. Today, it's an easy way to look for directions, purchase gifts or household necessities, get a movie or book review or search for information about a presidential candidate. For many companies like Marriott, Progressive, Best Buy or Toyota, a first-class Web site is part of their core strategy and the site's usability sometimes makes the difference between success and failure. Businesses realize that their customers rely on Web sites to help them not only purchase goods, but also to gather information—comparing products and prices—that can help consumers make better decisions.

In this report, Make Voting Work (MVW) examined the state elections Web sites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine whether citizens can find the official election information they need to register to vote, check their registration status and locate their polling places. More importantly, MVW measured if potential voters can use the information on state elections Web sites and if it helps them. We found that every state has room for improvement. However, states can still take steps to help voters; as the election approaches, many states have updated their Web sites and developed tools to help voters this November.