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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 on "Voting is a failure of the last mile"

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Drew
Drew
9 years 8 months ago

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

HC
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Elizabeth
9 years 8 months ago
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… Read more »
Nic Waller
Nic Waller
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Bo Schatzberg
Bo Schatzberg
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Amberlynn
9 years 8 months ago

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.)

Alexandra Levit
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Jesus Fernandez
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Jeremy Bettis
9 years 8 months ago

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.

Jenn
Jenn
9 years 8 months ago
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… Read more »
Toast1185
9 years 8 months ago

Sorry this is a little late. I have been busy all day with things, including voting. I too was interested in finding my polling place and the times it was opened. It was tedious and took me a while, but lifehacker found a better solution.

http://www.vote411.org/

Private interests can find a great solution to anything. Markets everywhere eh?

J
J
9 years 8 months ago

I Googled “polling place” and my ZIP code and found the location of my polling place in about 30 seconds. It also included a handy-dandy map, courtesy of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

I hate to say this, but people who can’t figure out where to vote probably ought not to be selecting our nation’s leadership anyhow.

Ramit Sethi
9 years 8 months ago
That’s bullshit. That tired excuse–“maybe those people shouldn’t ___”–is used for everything from driving a car to using the Internet, all in the name of justifying bad design. And you try to do it here, for voting–when it really matters? If one person fails, many more are failing at the same process–whether it’s finding a polling place or not being able to work your computer. And when you’re talking about voting, that’s millions of people who should be able to easily vote without idiotic barriers. Your elitist attitude pisses me off to no end. If someone can’t find a polling… Read more »
Felix
Felix
9 years 8 months ago
OK, try this then. You’ve identified a big problem. Who do you suppose should fix that problem? Being a good capitalist, your first thought ought to be “I’ll start a private enterprise and solve this big problem”. So punch those #’s into your excel spreadsheet, and see what happens… Gasp! It’s not profitable! I can’t do that! Now multiply that out by a few million, and what we get is what we get. See Ramit, business is great at providing us with luxuries, but piss poor at giving us what we need, like water, energy, and the basic tools of… Read more »
Ramit Sethi
9 years 8 months ago
I did that. I found something where I thought there was a big need (personal finance for young people) and started something to try to help–without a thought of profit. It was just something cool I wanted to do. I think a voter guide is a huge opportunity for someone young to get lots and lots of exposure (and do something genuinely good). It doesn’t always have to be a business solution for profit. Sometimes people–especially young people who benefit from more exposure than Excel sheets and money–can just do things because they think it’s interesting. If I had more… Read more »
Jessica
Jessica
9 years 8 months ago
usually finding out where you’re supposed to go isn’t the problem – that information is available practically everywhere online, libraries, your voter ID card probably has the address of your voting location, most people can manage to get out the old phone book and call the office of the local supervisor of elections the real problem is that there’s not a standard list of interview questions on issues that’s publicly available – it’s particularly hard to find information on local government candidates since the issues are so city specific – but usually even that information can be found if people… Read more »
vin
vin
9 years 8 months ago

May be US should learn something from India. Rather than using very high tech methods how about people-to-people contact? In India during elections, politicians are very people friendly, they even go door-to-door for campaining. People force of political parties draw people towards voting centers. (Althogh after getting elected they don’t show thier faces to voters, but that’s different issue.) Atleast in terms of executing election machinery India is far ahead of US even after being far poorer and 3 times more populous.

Josh J
Josh J
9 years 8 months ago
Hey folks, what about those people who don’t have access to the internet and aren’t able to hop on and search for their polling place? Yes, if you’re super motivated to go out and vote, you will find the information you need to make it happen…. but why should our elections be decided by the “super motivated”? And to say that if you’re motivated then you are a more educated or desireable voter is lame and untrue. I’m sure there are plenty of folks uneducated about the issues who cast a ballot today. Ramit makes a good point, and we… Read more »
Jessica
Jessica
9 years 8 months ago
We’re so spoiled as a culture to think that everything should be handed to us without us having to do the slightest bit of work. It’s easy to be full of excuses for not voting, because it’s too hard to find the location or imformation, or you’re not going to really change annything cause the system is screwed up. It’s easy to sit and complain. You don’t have to be “super motivated.” You don’t need the interent (of course everyone who’s posting here certainly has access so I don’t see why that commplaint is there) You simply have to decide… Read more »
Burry Katz
9 years 8 months ago

Ramit, even your non-finance entries are brilliant. Keep up the good work!

Enrique
Enrique
9 years 8 months ago

IT is very easy to find where to vote.
The only thing you need to know is in what county you live. For example, if you live in San Jose, Ca look for Santa Clara County.
Then on your search engine, type Santa Clara County, California. It will take you to to your county govt and election department. You can give them a call as to find out where is your precint to vote.
We will voting again in two years.
Good luck,

gr8face
9 years 8 months ago

I saw something on CNN today about a people videoing the problems at different polling places and posting it on Youtube.

Bookview
9 years 8 months ago

Oregon took away even the “I don’t know where to go to vote” excuse by instituting our vote-by-mail system. Not absolutely perfect (over-controlling spouses could be a problem), but when the polling place is your own kitchen table and you can cast your ballot the minute you receive it in the mail, no more, “Weeell, I woulda voted but it was raining/lines were too long/cat threw up/oh, whatever…”

David
David
9 years 8 months ago

Perhaps it’s the young voters fault, not the system. The system has been here a long, long time and generation after generation of people have voted…so why not today’s kids?

If you ask me it’s kind of pathetic that every other generation can figure out how to vote, but today’s kids need “Special Instructions”…

maloo
maloo
9 years 8 months ago
I was goign thru a yahoo article “Best Blogs for the Young and Broke” and found urs in that and thought that it would be very interesting ……and I have no clue abt some of these things..1)Ur site says”I will teach u to be rich” but theres nothing in it abt becoming rich ..either u becoming rich or making others rich..2) And after I went thru some of the articles I found that most of them are like ur general views and some ideas that u usually talk with frens like that and nothing more than that. Then for what… Read more »
J
J
9 years 8 months ago

Ramit, why did you go to the internet first? I just knock on the door of older neighbors. I mean, hey, before 2000 they were the only ones who voted in local elections.

JM
JM
9 years 8 months ago

dude, just look on your voter registration card. You get it when you register. Keep it with your passport and other important documents. There isn’t anything online to help me look up my social security number either, but I wouldn’t exactly call that a last mile failure. Sometimes you just have to memorize stuff or keep important documents in a safe place.

DJ
DJ
9 years 8 months ago
“Oh man! So I wanted to go to Canada and they said I needed a passport! I thought about it, and the last time I used that thing was, like, two years ago dudes! I don’t even know where it could be! Probably in a pile of papers somewhere. Hope I didn’t throw it out. But anyway, how stupid is that? Regulating international travel on a piece of paper I got, like, years ago – no wonder so many people complain about customs!” Like a passport and a driver’s license, your voter registration card isn’t something to be thrown away.… Read more »
Adam Lasnik
9 years 8 months ago
My goodness, Ramit. Maybe I just got lucky, but it seems that with about 45 seconds of Googling, pretty much anyone (at least in the U.S.) can rather easily find their polling place. “where do i vote cityname” “polling place cityname” What if someone doesn’t have net access, can’t get to a library or cafe with net access, has no friends with net access, isn’t a student with net access at school? They could: – Buy a newspaper the day before, day of. – Use their phonebook to call pretty much any local gov’t office which’d surely be able to… Read more »
Jay Cordle
Jay Cordle
8 years 7 months ago
Lookie here… I *get* it, Ramit. You are absolutely correct, and some people are not getting it. For those of you calling out Ramit on this subject, listen up. He’s not saying it’s impossible to find the info. I’m sure that he supports the simplicity and usefulness of search engines, too. What he is saying is this: There is already a system in place to vote. From one endpoint (the legislative process that results in the things we vote on) to the other (dropping the ballot in the box, however you do it), the government is performing this function. If… Read more »
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