Monday, April 20, 2009

Live from the Politics Online Conference

I'm at the Politics Online Conference at the Ronald Reagan building in downtown DC. It is sponsored by the sponsored by the Institute for Politics Democracy at GWU and the Internet and Politics Magazine, with a big presence by Google,, and other politics/news/tech companies.

On the opening panel this morning we heard from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Brunner has created many ways for Ohio voters to go online to get info about elections - how and where to register and vote, applying for absentee ballots, candidate guides, but also capturing voter e-mail addresses so the SOS office can send reminders to send it absentee ballots. Ohio partnered with Google, Pew, and the JEHT foundation to set up sophisticated online tools for voters.

Brunner is a big fan of absentee voting and she did alot to encourage voters to choose this method. They had a program called "avoid the line," as in avoid the line on Election Day. I was in Columbus, Ohio on election day 2004 and I will never forget the long snaking lines of people standing in the rain on that gloomy November day. Back then (before Brunner, when Ohio had a Sec of State who was more interested in preventing fraud than encouraging participation) absentee voting was very limited. In 2008 about 30% of the state's voters cast an absentee ballot, and Ohio avoided the lines and bad publicity from 2004. But what if the election had been close in Ohio, like it was in Minnesota? Would Ohio have seen the same problems that Minnesota has faced since Election Day? Probably, and with a new absentee voting law in Ohio the litigation ther could have been even more of a tangled mess than it has been in MN. Did not have a chance to ask Brunner this question, but will try to catch her later if she is still here.

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