Bring Ballots into the 21st Century

By Nolan Love

It's no secret that the bureaucrats who run our elections, the lifeblood of our democracy, are not always as tech-savvy as they should be. First we had those hanging chads in Florida in 2000. Not 1920, but 2000 for crying out loud -- the dawn of the third millennium. Then, in reaction to the Florida fiasco, we had a brief and woefully misguided fad for computer voting machines that weren't programmed properly, couldn't do recounts, froze on Election Day and, in some cases, wouldn't even switch on; most state and county election officials who fell for them have gone through a serious case of buyers' remorse.

Even now, in 2012, the first presidential election to be contested and followed on Twitter, it remains remarkably hard for voters to get their heads around what is on their ballot and how to make smart choices, especially when it comes to the thicket of down-ballot races that can often have a greatest immediate impact on people's lives. Okay, so you know if you prefer Barack Obama or Mitt Romney (or maybe neither), but what about the candidates for State Assembly? Or all those Propositions?

Sure, we have voter guides that plop down in the mail, along with the avalanche of other campaign literature. Sure, we can get to the websites of the various campaigns and try to work our own way through the propaganda put out by the opposing sides. Sure, we can consult news organizations and party websites for a list of endorsements. But, in this age of digital convenience and lightning-speed communication, shouldn't there be an easier way to do this and have all the pertinent information accessible in one place?

The answer, of course, is yes, and we're starting to see signs of smart people – unconnected to the bureaucracy of election management – coming up with answers. A number of media websites – among them, KPCC in southern California – are inviting visitors to their website to enter their address, look at the races they can expect to find on their ballot, read extracts from the candidates' policy positions and follow links to related websites and news stories.

Even more compelling, perhaps, is a new web app called See Your Ballot, produced by PollVault.com, which not only lists the races you'll be voting on but gives you the opportunity to customize a screenful of voting recommendations from organizations you like, or from your politically up-to-speed friends, neighbors and family members.

Unlike local media websites like KPCC, PollVault's app covers the entire country. For now, voters have access to the recommendations of about 400 organizations, including (from left to right) the Sierra Club, the Humane Society, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Conservative Union and the National Rifle Association; that list is expected to grow exponentially in the next electoral cycle. They can ask for input from their friends and acquaintances through Facebook. Once the site catches on, the expectation is that people will be swapping ballot advice as happily as they exchange photographs of their babies.

To see your own virtual ballot, you can visit PollVault.com directly, or visit Rock the Vote's Election Center look for the See What's on Your Ballot button. This is clearly the wave of the future, people. Three presidential elections after the rest of us, our ballots are finally entering the 21st century.

 

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