Being Online Is Not Enough

Oct 16, 2008

Being Online Is Not Enough: State Elections Web Sites, a 50-state analysis produced by the Pew Center on the States, examines election websites' usability and finds that when voters cannot easily locate information online, limited resources are diverted to operate costly help lines (as much as $100 per call).  Consequently, this report offers recommendations to improve state websites before Election Day.

Researchers with the Pew Center on the States, in conjunction with Nielsen Norman Group, a leading Internet usability firm, measured the usability and effectiveness of state election websites based on benchmarks that range from quickly finding the site itself to how easily users can locate important voting information. Based on these criteria, each site was assigned a usability score using a scale from 1 to 100.

Some of the study’s key findings include:

  • • The average usability score for election websites in the 50 states and the District of Columbia is 58 percent—ranging from a high of 77 percent (Iowa) to a low of 33 percent (New Hampshire);
  • • When using popular search engines such as Google, only 38 states appear as the first search term when searching for “voting in [STATE NAME]”; and only 34 official state websites appear as the first search result when users enter in their state name with “polling place”;  
  • • Thirty-four states have a poll locator tool, but only 11 states will identify a polling location for any address in the state—helping voters to easily find the basic information they will need to vote;
  • • Half the states including the District of Columbia (53 percent) offer a way for users to verify their registration online; and
  • • By not improving their sites, states are missing an opportunity to save money on voter telephone help lines—up to $100 per call.

Note: An updated report was released in December 2011. Read Being Online Is Still Not Enough.

These findings are especially troubling given the increasing tendency of Americans to use the Internet for information about the public sector. In addition, the increased interest in this election combined with the influx of new voters is driving a need for information. 

The report also introduces the Voting Information Project, a joint effort of state and local election officials, Pew and Google, Inc., that aims to bring official voting information—polling place locations, ballot content and information about registration and absentee ballots—directly to voters via the Internet. 

 
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