[Image courtesy of Patch.com]
In ten years of collecting election administration news from around the country, I have become increasingly aware of the impact of changes in the news industry on the availability of local information about voting.
Over that decade, I have seen once-reliable outlets disappear - or worse, slide behind paywalls that entice the reader with intriguing headlines but then greet you at the door with an outstretched palm. [I'm looking at you, Bloomington, IN HeraldTimesOnline.]
That's why the emergence of the Patch Network - a project of AOL (remember them?) - has been such a delightful revelation. Patch sites have become a reliable source for the kind of nuts and bolts coverage of election administration that has disappeared elsewhere.
Take, for example, a story from this morning's Oxford, CT Patch. The story discusses the availability of absentee ballots for the upcoming November 8 election - a typical subject for this time of year. But the Patch article goes further and actually includes a sample ballot in PDF form that a voter can review before casting a ballot. That's the kind of story that the bigger sites don't seem to be interested in providing - and a gap that desperately needs filling as election offices struggle to get their message out to voters.
Recent reports have suggested that AOL's commitment to Patch.com could fall victim to financial concerns, despite assurances to the contrary.
Selfishly, I hope they survive; in a very short time, Patch.com has already found a place in my election-geeky heart as a treasure trove of details about elections across the country. Check it out - you'll likely be glad you did.