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15 Little Life Hacks

Voting is a failure of the last mile

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I’m surprised. With all the news we’ve been getting lately about getting out and voting, I haven’t seen one piece of information about where I’m supposed to vote beyond the one piece of mail I got about 6 weeks ago. Who knows how many people lost that sample ballot and went online to find the info?

Unfortunately, finding information about voting registration and voting locations is awful. Maybe it’s just me–I have Tivo so I skip through commercials, and I don’t watch NBC Nightly News–but I can’t help thinking that lots of young people have similar habits of going online. In fact, the “maybe it’s just me” phrase is a red flag indicating a classic design problem. It’s not voters’ fault–it’s the designers’ fault (in this case, election officials) for not giving us the information we need beyond “EVERYBODY GO VOTE!!!”

A cursory search online doesn’t give any information, either. Now, I dug around and found the sample ballot, but I wonder how significant that initial “I can’t find it online” reaction is for voter turnout. With all the handwringing about low voter turnout, I wonder how much we could bump up results if we had an easy, step-by-step online guide to registering and finding your polling place that we actually knew about.

As Malcolm Gladwell noted in The Tipping Point when describing Howard Levanthal’s famed social psychology experiment:

Sure enough, when Levanthal redid the experiment, one small change was sufficient to tip the vaccination rate up to 28 percent. It was simply including a map of the campus, with the university health building circled and the times that shots were available clearly listed.

Voting locations based off a mailed document from 6 weeks ago? Talk about a failure of the last mile.

PS–The best voting site I found was http://canivote.org, which I heard about on NPR

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30 Comments

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  1. Check out http://www.vote411.org for voting locations and candidate information.

  2. Try Project Vote Smart.

    With your 9-digit zip (they include a link to the USPS lookup), they’ll give you a list of current candidates and links to voter registration information. Your link is better for finding polling places, though.

    In my area, the prominent party left an autocall on Sunday night, offering a number to call if I needed a ride to the polls or information on my polling place (I didn’t). So I guess they did come through in the last mile. Still didn’t support all their candidates, but it was a nice gesture.

  3. I agree that voting information isn’t widely available on the web. Though I knew where to vote, I didn’t know who was running for the less publicized positions (commissioners, school board, etc). So, last night I spent nearly an hour trying to find information online so I could make an educated choice. I thought I finally had it figured out and went to bed. I can’t even tell you how mad I was this morning when I showed up to vote and there were positions I hadn’t heard of (much less the candidates names). I felt robbed of my chance to make an impact.

  4. That’s ludicrous. I’m 20, so I’m probably part of those “young people” that you were referring to. I live in Canada, and at the last election I went online to find my voting area. All I had to do was type in my postal code and I was given a list of locations. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I probably would not have voted at all.

  5. Pretty much every state has such an online system either through that state’s Secretary of State or Board of Elections. (also heard this on NPR). Google “find polling location” + your state, and you’ll find it. Plus, there is a link up today on the featured section on Yahoo’s homepage that will point people in the same direction.

  6. The New Voters Project noticed that same problem. Step one, get youth registered. Then, most places stop. They forgot the next steps: make sure they know that their registration worked, make sure they know how to find information, make sure then know WHEN AND WHERE to vote. In ’04 I helped run a NVP phone banking office where we called youth that our canvassers had registered to vote and said “So, do you know *where to go vote?” (It was all non-partison, by the way.)

  7. Ramit, this is a brilliant point. I know several people who aren’t planning on voting because it’s simply too difficult to figure out exactly what they’re supposed to do. Definitely has broad applications for customer calls to action in business at large.

  8. This was the only tool directly linked to on the Miami-Dade Board of Elections website. Absolutely horrible and unusable. I had to google around until I found a map of my area with the precincts labeled to find my polling location.

    Aside from that the process (checking in, and voting) was handled smoothly. It is amazing how little attention was given to this specific part of the process.

  9. You got a letter 6 weeks ago, lucky you. I received a letter when I registered to vote, and nothing since. On the other hand, my polling place has been in the same location for years, so I didn’t need any updated notification.

  10. I tried to get prepared Sunday evening and ran into the same problem. I live in Utah and the Voting Guide they pass out is pretty ludicrous. It doesn’t even tell me how many U.S. representatives Utah has (I just moved here) or how many will be on the ballot. No sample ballot, nothing. After much searching I was finally able to find out my polling place, which had CHANGED since I registered 5 months ago… and if I ever received notification in the mail, I certainly don’t remember it. It took me even longer to find out what hours the polls were open. And I’ve heard about proposals that aren’t listed in my Voting Guide, which also doesn’t include any information on the candidates except little blurbs they wrote themselves. I have to wonder, why did they bother?

    It has greatly surprised me how little information is available on the web. If you don’t watch the nightly news or subscribe to the paper, you’re utterly screwed.

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