Photo by antisocialtory on Flickr

While the DC Board of Elections and Ethics’ efforts to cut costs in the April 26th election were logical, they may have been detrimental to those without Internet access or extensive knowledge of the long slate of candidates.

In an effort to cut costs for the low-turnout special election, DCBOEE decided to forgo their usual practice of mailing an election guide to registered voters. Instead, they mailed a postcard notifying voters of the upcoming election and published an online-only voter guide. DCBOEE should consider implementing an amended version of this process in the future in order to ensure that all registered voters have access to important election information.

We live in an increasingly digitally-connected world. However, not everyone has, or wants, access to the internet. According to a 2010 report by DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer broadband adoption rates sit near 40% in Wards 5, 7, and 8 but soar to 90% elsewhere in the city. 

In a normal election, information would have been available through traditional media sources such as the Washington Post and local television news. Unfortunately, the special election attracted little media attention, the best of which was available exclusively online.

It would have been fairly difficult for a voter to learn about the candidates unless they were targeted specifically. As ANC 7C04 Commissioner Sylvia Brown has pointed out, only a small number of voters received personal attention from the candidates. 

A helpful anecdote can be pulled from my own election day experience. An elderly woman approached me after voting, dismayed that she had never heard of most of the candidates. She was relatively new to town, so the campaigns weren’t targeting her. And since she didn’t have Internet access, she was relying on traditional media sources for information. She would have benefitted greatly from a physical voter guide. 

DCBOEE should consider a hybrid system that allows voters to opt out of receiving a physical voter guide in favor of an online one. The Pew Center on the States recently found that such a system could provide significant savings, while informing a large number of voters. This would provide access to a voter guide that was conveniently tailored to their needs.

Current voters could be informed of the option through social media and Internet outreach. Voters registering for the first time or submitting changes to their registration status could note their preference while filling out necessary forms.

An online voter guide was a good cost saving option for this special election. However, a hybrid process would create long-term savings and provide voters without Internet access necessary information. Until the Internet access is more equally available citywide, the practice of publishing physical voter guides should be maintained.

Matt Rumsey moved to D.C in 2005 to pursue a degree in History at American University. Originally from Connecticut, he has had no intention of leaving D.C. since he moved to Columbia Heights in the summer of 2008. He now lives in Ward 5. He currently works at The Sunlight Foundation. Views here are his own.