Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Technology Alters Politics as Usual

  • Slowly but surely, some states adopt the Internet and tablets to simplify Election Day.
They may have difficulty deciding whom to vote for—but election officials in several states are simplifying the process through the integration of new and consumer technologies.
    During a November 2011 special election, Oregon allowed people with disabilities to vote using iPads, a practice it plans to continue during the presidential elections this year.
    “By 2012, we expect to see dozens of states, territories and countries implementing some form of electronic voting system,” said Lori Steele, chairman and CEO of Everyone Counts, the company responsible for implementing this new electronic voting system for Oregon. “It’s mainstream. It’s here now, and we’re going to see great progress in the 2012 elections.”
    Along with 10 other states, Oregon either lets or plans to soon let residents register to vote online as long as they have a valid state driver’s license or ID card, Politico reported. In all other states, individuals must register either in-person or via mail.
    The Pew Center on the States is sharing tools it developed internally and with partners to expand voter technology. To date, 35 states have partnered with the center to use at least three tools, including an app to help military and overseas voters complete Federal Write-in Absentee ballots, a multilingual polling place finder and an expansion of the center’s existing smartphone app to make it available on more platforms. The center’s goal is to become a central location for voters, where residents can find states’ online registration portals and other data people need in order to vote, Matthew Morse, Pew Center on the States' senior associate, told Politico.
    Policymakers interested in alleviating some of the administrative burdens presented by a presidential election year may want to look at the way some states are harnessing technology to improve elections. The states that are leading the way are doing things such as registering voters electronically, using new technological tools to reach military and overseas voters, finding better ways to connect with other agencies in their states and even in other states, and constantly looking for ways they can get information to voters at the time and in the place voters are looking for it. Industry experts expect that at the end of the next election cycle, states using these technologies and approaches will be able to demonstrate efficiencies and reduced costs.
    At least one area is turning to a technology that helped transform retail. City officials in Long Beach, Calif., are installing radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on ballot boxes to track their movements after the polls close, according to various reports. 
    In 2013, it’s anticipated that residents of Washington—home of Microsoft—will be able to register to vote via a special page on Facebook, Politico said. “Facebook is looking for a way to link in or tie in our online voter registration service with Facebook and use the advantages Facebook offers to get the social aspect of registering to vote and telling friends they registered to vote online,” Washington co-director of elections Shane Hamlin said. “Microsoft is doing the tech work of developing the connection between our online registration tool and Facebook.”
    Security and cost are states’ major concerns, however.
    Social Media Boom
    While they may not—yet—enable voter-registration via Facebook, politicians and voting officials are turning to social media for many other tasks.
    Of course, all campaigns have Facebook pages and Twitter handles. In addition, some election officials are using social media for advertising and awareness.
    In Seminole County, Fla., election officials plan to design ads to reach residents within the correct area, as well as those who update their status with specific keywords that indicate they are qualified voters, Mike Ertel, supervisor of elections, told Politico.
    “It’s target marketing on steroids,” he said.
    The media, too, is using traditional social media to keep audiences informed. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, NBC, for example, has partnered with location-based service Foursquare on its Website. In real time, users can see where candidates are making campaign stops, and will display check-ins from NBC reporters. The media company plans to offer Foursquare users unique, co-branded political badges this year, according to Technology News. CNN allows viewers to share their opinion in 1-minute, user-created video clips, via its “Sound-off” page.

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