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Election Innovations Reshape the Voting Experience

This article was originally posted on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s website and can be found here.

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Legislation and information technology spur innovation, resulting in more transparent, efficient and accessible voting procedures

WASHINGTON- Legislative reforms brought on by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) along with advances in information technology have led to marked changes over the past 10 years in the way elections are administered in the United States, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Ten years ago, early voting was rare. Absentee ballot tracking and vote centers were unheard of. And live webcasts of the vote tabulation process weren’t available. Yet innovations such as these have become increasingly commonplace.

HAVA was a catalyst for many such election reforms by providing funds to states to modernize their voting systems and voter registration databases. For instance, the HAVA-mandated move to statewide voter registration databases facilitated the migration from paper poll books to digital poll books, which makes the voter check-in process faster and more accurate.

Some of the biggest innovations have taken place on the web, where voters in a majority of states can verify their voter registration, get directions to their polling place, and download a sample ballot from the Web site of their elections office. Several states also offer online voter registration, which can reduce administrative costs while producing more accurate voter lists.

Numerous counties have embraced social media to communicate with voters and the news media about polling place hours, wait times and closures. Douglas County, Kan., used Twitter during a local election in 2009 to inform voters of a polling place closure due to a fire. News outlets saw the feed and broadcast the news within minutes. Counties are also using mobile phone text messaging to coordinate Election Day activities with poll workers.

Voting by mail has become more widespread this decade, and some areas, such as Denver, Colo., are offering voters the ability to track their absentee ballot. Through a barcode on the ballot envelope, the ballot is scanned before it enters the mail system and when it’s returned to the elections office. Voters in some jurisdictions can also check the status of a provisional ballot online.

An estimated 30 percent of voters will cast a ballot early this year—either in person or by mail. The number of states that offer early voting has increased from 9 in 1998 to 32 in 2010. Broward County, Florida and Forsyth County, Georgia post early voting wait times on their Web site so people can avoid lines.

Jurisdictions are also electronically transmitting blank ballots to military and overseas voters to help ensure they receive their ballots on time and to comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which Congress passed in 2009.

Vote centers have replaced polling places in Larimer County, Colo., offering voters the flexibility to vote at a designated location that is convenient for them. Electronic poll books made this innovation possible, allowing voter check-in information to be updated and shared countywide in real time.

Election offices are also opening their election-night operations to the public. Orange County, California, which has 1.6 million registered voters, uses the Internet to increase transparency, providing a streaming video of election night operations, including vote-by-mail ballot procedures and updates of election results every 30 minutes.

Why are election officials going above and beyond to provide these new innovations? “A desire to always do better by the voter and the taxpayer,” said Election Assistance Commission Executive Director Tom Wilkey. “It’s impressive how skillfully election officials have leveraged technology to advance the field in such a short time.”

EAC is an independent commission created by the Help America Vote Act. EAC serves as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration. It is charged with administering payments to states and developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and accrediting voting system test laboratories and certifying voting equipment. It is also charged with developing and maintaining a national mail voter registration form. The three EAC commissioners are Donetta Davidson, chair; Gracia Hillman and Gineen Bresso. There is one vacancy on the commission.


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