Being Online Is Still Not Enough
Reviews and Recommendations for State Election Websites
Best Practices: Lookup Tools
Lookup tools allow users to filter large amounts of information so they can easily find their ward or precinct, for example, without wading through long lists.
We recommend five voting information lookup tools that allow users to find their:
- Registration status
- Precinct-level ballot information
- Polling place location
- Absentee ballot status
- Provisional ballot status
The following recommendations are based on expert assessments and practices already in place in some states.
Lookup Tools’ Presentation, Function, and Design
- Prominently feature the tools available on the website.
- Provide a clear description of the information that users can find. The best introductions are brief and easy to scan, provide a bulleted list of the information a user can find with the tool, and estimate the time a user will spend to get results.
For example, Georgia’s “My Voter Page” system included an introduction page with a bulleted list of the information users can access.
- Avoid returning more personal information than a user enters.
- Make sure the return screen for voter registration status includes instructions for updating or correcting the data displayed.
- Allow users to access polling place and ballot information by street address, and provide a sample address, as Montana does, that can be used to try out these tools.
- Include polling place hours within the text featured on return screens for polling place lookup tools.
- Design tools to ask questions in a logical order. Users should be able to enter data easily; required fields should be identified clearly; and users should understand how to proceed to the next step.
- Provide clear error messages that are:
- Noticeable, with a message in bolded red near the field that needs attention.
- Specific, with instructions on exactly what needs to be fixed.
- On more complicated forms, an error should be noted with both a pop-up message and an indication on the page at the point where the error occurs.
Website Search Functions
- Present a website search tool as an empty field at top of every page (the right-hand side is expected by users).
- Include a submit button titled “Search.”
- Provide enough space (at least 30 characters).
- Make it visually distinct.
- Do not use advanced or technical search categories or instructions.
- Provide understandable search-results titles and information.
When Web pages are not tagged or given descriptions, search engines create description text by pulling excerpts from the target page. Even the best search engines do not know what information is most useful to describe the pages and what will be useful to users, unless it is provided through the search engine’s indexing tools.
Websites can define areas of pages that should be indexed, should not be indexed, and can sometimes be indexed under particular circumstances. This will fine-tune the search results so that users get a true sense of what content they will find on the page.
If possible, the responsibility for site indexing, tagging, and descriptions should be assigned to a skilled taxonomist or library sciences professional.
For example, Utah’s search-result abstracts clearly indicated what content will be on the resulting pages. Additionally, the results page included terms to refine the search.