State election Web sites are often too difficult for voters to find and use to answer questions such as whether they are registered to vote, where to vote and what will be on the ballot, according to a new study released today by the Pew Center on the States. "Being Online is Not Enough: State Election Web Sites," a 50-state analysis examining election Web site usability, finds that when voters cannot easily locate information online, it diverts limited resources to operate help lines which can cost as much as $100 per call in staffer time. The report, produced by Make Voting Work, a joint initiative of the Pew Center on the States and the JEHT Foundation, offers recommendations to improve state Web sites before Election Day.

"State election offices have made considerable strides in getting Web sites up and running. Yet as more and more Americans seek information online, it is no longer enough for election offices merely to put information online," said Michael Caudell-Feagan, director of Make Voting Work. "Voters are turning to the Web with basic questions about how to cast their ballot. And our study shows that state Web sites need to do a better job in meeting those needs. There are simple things outlined in this report that every state can do to improve services and make the democratic process easier."

Researchers with the Pew Center on the States, in conjunction with Nielson Norman Group, a leading Internet usability firm, measured the usability and effectiveness of state election Web sites based on key benchmarks including:

  • How easily users can locate the site on the Web
  • How easy it is for users to navigate through the site and understand content
  • How well the homepage is organized
  • How easy it is for users to search the site
  • How well the site incorporates online tools to further help users locate information.

Based on these criteria each site was assigned a usability score, ranging on a scale from 1 to 100.

Some of the study's key findings include:

  • The average usability score for election Web sites 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 34 states

    appear as the first search term when searching for "voting in [STATE

    NAME]"; and only 38 official state Web sites 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

  • By not improving their sites, states are missing an opportunity to

    save money on voter telephone help lines -- up to $100 per call


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