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Being Online is NEVER Enough: New Pew Report Illuminates the Constant Challenge of Meeting (or Beating) Expectations

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[AP Photo courtesy of WSJ.com]

Yesterday, the Pew Center on the States released Being Online is Still Not Enough, an update of its 2008 assessment of state election websites nationwide. The new report, compiled with the assistance of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the Nielsen Norman Group, looks at election sites at the time of the 2010 election and assesses them on their usability, content, and the extent to which they give voters lookup tools to answer questions about the voting process.

I can't really do the content justice here; between the extraordinary report itself (an online report about online information - what a great idea!) and yesterday's electionlineWeekly article co-authored by Kim Alexander and Tracy Westen, you get a very rich and detailed picture of the importance of online outlets for official information and the degree to which different states' sites reflect that importance.

What I want to talk about today, however, is the challenge that assessments like Being Online pose for the field of election administration. As more and more Americans turn to technology for help in answering their questions of every kind, election officials - like just about everyone else seeking to sell a product or deliver a service - are almost duty-bound to find a way to reach people with technology.

The problem, of course, is that every technological leap forward quickly becomes commonplace and consumers/citizens want more. Quite simply, innovation cannot keep up with expectation. In the context of assessments like Being Online, states (and localities) are always going to have findings that say, in essence, "there has been definite improvement but there is still work to be done."

What's important to remember, however, is that this rapid pace should be a source of encouragement rather than discouragement; as technology moves forward (and people go from desktops to laptops to smartphones to tablets to whatever is next) states and localities can use the effort to keep voters informed as a valuable source of intelligence about what voters want. This will require election officials with new skills who can think in new ways - who understand that a website or mobile app isn't a frill but a mission-critical component of their work to help voters cast an informed, timely and valid ballot.

The ever-changing world of technology - as always, captured beautifully in Pew's Being Online reports - is a powerful reminder that while the bar is always rising, at least it is showing us the direction in which voters want us to go.

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