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Problems with Voter Cards: Might Vaudeville (and the Internet) Have a Solution?

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[Images courtesy of EscambiaVotes.com (Escambia County, FL)]

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that voter cards are rapidly emerging as the bane of many election officials' existence - especially during the game of "52 pickup" that is the aftermath of decennial redistricting.

In just the last few weeks alone, we have seen stories from Peoria, IL, Stafford County, VA and most recently Montgomery County, VA where late, delayed or incorrect voter cards have created problems for election officials and potential confusion for voters.

What to do, then? I think vaudeville has an excellent suggestion ... in one famous bit, a patient goes to a doctor and says, "Doc - it hurts when I do this."

The doctor's reply? "So don't do that."

Believe it or not, that's not a bad idea for election officials facing the dilemma of notifying voters about districts and polling places. As we are seeing, it hurts many jurisdictions to produce and deliver new voter cards: the information must be correct as of the time the voter needs it and any mistake or delay can be costly both in dollars and confusion.

Of course, "don't do that" doesn't apply to the need to inform voters, but it could apply to the process of producing printed cards that must be delivered to voters.

What, then, is the alternative? That's where the Internet comes in.

My colleagues on the election team at the Pew Center on the States have been touting the value of online voting information for years. The 2008 report Being Online Is Not Enough demonstrated that reliable, usable and easy-to-find state election websites not only assist voters but conserve resources for states. That's why Pew - in partnership with election officials and the commitment to innovation of technology leaders like Google, Microsoft and Facebook -- created the Voting Information Project, which is dedicated to helping states deliver official election information to voters via over the Web and a full range of mobile devices.

Jurisdictions looking to escape the problems associated with late or incorrect voter cards should begin to think about using online and mobile delivery to accomplish the same purposes. For example, the State of Texas has launched Who Represents Me?, a site that allows voters to enter an address and learn who represents them in Congress, the state legislature and other state offices. [You can try it using the address for the State Capitol - 1100 Congress Avenue, Austin TX 78701.]

Using online sources allows election offices to ensure that the information is right when the voter needs it - usually shortly before Election Day - as opposed to hoping the information is right when the printer prints it, usually long before Election Day.

This approach won't work for every jurisdiction - and while the digital divide is subsiding somewhat, demographic differences in access to and utilization of technology still exist and are a point of concern.

Still, for many jurisdictions, taking a page from vaudeville and investing in online delivery of information could be a way to avoid the usual pains associated with trying to print and deliver voter cards.

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