Please Copy: Kudos to Interactive Voter Guides

Nov 17, 2020

In the aftermath of a highly charged election with often-overheated news coverage that didn’t mean a lot to voters, what news content worked for citizens who had to cast ballots – especially for state and local races that eluded media attention?

My vote goes to some of the better public media Voter Guides that I spotlight here because they deserve to be replicated by others in future elections.

To be sure, many stations had static guides that provided narrative candidate biographies. And they explained the mechanics and logistics of this year’s mail and in-person voting.

But some of the guides that embraced interactivity to make the job easier for voters deserve special attention.

WNYC News’s Voter Guide to the 2020 Election in New York and New Jersey invited voters to simply type in their full street address. and it generated a customized ballot for that person’s district. Candidates were competing for more than three dozen offices in both states, so this personalized guide provided a good road map.

The guide was a collaboration of WNYC , its Gothamist local-news site, the Gotham Gazette and City Limits, a 44-year-old policy site.

City Limits went a step further and published a Guide to NYC’s Judicial Ballot. It attracted so many users that it became the site’s highest performing post last month, according to Ben DeJarnette writing for Nieman Lab.  It goes to show that voters are willing to take a deep dive into state bar approvals of some three dozen candidates on various local ballots.

 “That guide drew an astounding level of traffic,” the site’s executive editor Jarrett Murphy told DeJarnette, attracting some 81,000 page views in October, which was six times more than the site’s other top posts.  “I think it’s an information gap we should do even more to fill in the future.”

Most voters throw up their hands when confronted with down-ballot races like local judges. Yet their tenures are long – 10 to 14 years in New York – and they decide important cases.  New York City’s judges are the ones who decide what happens to the child in a custody dispute, help determine guilt or innocence in criminal cases, and rule on business disputes every day, DeJarnette reported.

Sacramento-based CapRadio had a useful and sharp-looking California 2020 Voter Guide. It, too, allowed voters to research their ballots by typing in their addresses to get more information on competing candidates.

Especially appealing were the entry points for about a dozen propositions on ballots in California involving everything from rent control, to cash bail to rules for app-based drivers. Each proposition had its own box on the website that, when clicked, offered an audio and text explainer of the details of each proposal.

CapRadio voter ballot
CapRadio's ballot explained the California ballot propositions. 

KSUT Public Radio in Southern Colorado and Rocky Mountain Public Media offered an interactive voter guide that was part of an initiative by 60 others spearheaded headed by the Colorado News Collaborative (CoLab). The guide offered additional reporting from across the state about ballot measures and major races. And voters could search by race, topic, news outlet or location.

St. Louis Public Radio also had an interactive map and, while it was not as searchable, if a voter clicked on his or her precinct, it would provide a link to a sample ballot, which is always useful.

It would be great if, in the future, public broadcasters could collaborate on an interactive voter guide template that could be customized to accommodate station logos and local races. It’s past time to move into the interactive arena with election information. And there’s no need for everyone to re-invent the wheel.

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