Field Guides

Vol 7: Designing election department websites

In the spring of 2012, Dana Chisnell contacted me to join her in a research project. We would conduct a baseline of local election websites in the united states, for part of her series of short guides on election design.

  • We constructed a representative sample of 174 counties based on size, demographics, rural vs. urban, and region.
  • For each county in our sample, we did a structured inventory of content on the election department (or clerk or board) website’s homepage.
  • With the help of an intern I recruited, we checked all ~3,000 counties in the US for the presence of an election website.
  • We led a volunteer team in conducting remote interviews with 42 Americans using their own local election website, distributed across the country.

Our most important discovery was that residents’ questions about elections did not fit local officials’ assumptions. That meant that most sites were confusingly organized and added barriers to voter participation.

We also found that counties with large minority populations were less likely to be well-served by election websites.

We published our findings as an academic paper and made our recommendations into Field Guide 7, part of a series of design guides for election officials.