At a first glance, it’s easy to notice the enticing design of the Ventura County Registrar of Voters website. You can immediately find your polling place, your elected officials, the latest election results, and even start a live chat with one of the elections staff by clicking the easy-to-find icons.
It might seem trivial to note how well designed a government website is, but a great layout and useable interface are needed to improve California’s abysmal 45th ranking in voter turnout. As elections websites are becoming more frequently used among new and young voters, there is simply no excuse for an archaic and cluttered look.
Before Registrar Mark Lunn took office, having observed the confusing pathways to voter information, he wasn’t sure that being the elections chief was his path after serving the community in law enforcement. However, the late California Governor (later President) Ronald Reagan once told Lunn, “You can’t impact the outcome of the game if you don’t join the team.” Those words led Lunn to run for the Ventura County Clerk and Recorder/Registrar team to “preserve history and protect democracy” – just like his website says.
Since winning his seat in 2010, Lunn and his staff have tried to design the site from the perspective of the voter. There is purposely no technical elections language in the site, since only elections officials and policy wonks know the technical vocabulary. Ventura is joining other counties – like Marin – in efforts to utilize “plain language” that is accessible to the widest possible audience.
Not only has Lunn and his staff received tons of compliments from the media, various political parties and voters alike, there have been less calls to the Registrar’s office with questions because their user-friendly website is helping voters efficiently find information at their fingertips.
The amount of elections information is troublesome to sort through, and Registrars do a delicate dance between transparency and understandability. “Usually everything is formatted into indexes,” President of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials (CACEO) Cathy Darling Allen explained, “It shouldn’t be this difficult to have digestible information, but the design of information is a very difficult problem to solve.” Most of the time voters just want to know if they’re registered to vote and when the postal worker is delivering sample ballots.
There’s still a lot of work to do on all levels of government. The 2002 federal Help America Vote Act (reform inspired by the 2000 presidential elections) has allocated funding for states to help administer elections, like money to train poll workers or update voting systems. California has received more than $380 million since then, but the State Auditor’s report recently found the state has inefficiently used voting funds all while owing millions of dollars to counties for elections administration.
Despite these challenges you can be hopeful for some real reform soon. Senator Alex Padilla’s bill (SB 361) will place additional requirements on the Secretary of State to provide tools to check the status of registration, provisional ballot and vote by mail ballot, look up your polling place all on the Secretary of State’s website. This would give Californians a statewide “one stop shop” to look up the most essential information to have your vote counted, instead of having accessibility of information vary across county borders.
The successes in Lunn’s years as an elected couldn’t be done without the dedication to do good governance reform in the perspective of voters. That’s what public service means.
Registrars across the state came together this summer to strategize on outreach at the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials’ Annual (CACEO) Conference. CACEO and California Forward are a part of the Future of California Elections (FOCE), a collaboration between county election officials, civil rights advocates and good government groups committed to identifying consensus-based approaches to the twin goals of increasing the effectiveness of the state’s election system while also expanding participation throughout all of California’s diverse communities.