Dana Chisnell Explains the Voter Information Gap

Dana Chisnell of the Center for Civic Design saw a problem with the availability of information for voters before they get to the ballot on Election Day. What some might call “voter apathy” Chisnell sees as a gap in voter information. To fix this problem, she wanted to answer two questions: What information do voters need, and how do they find that information?

According to her research, only about 20 percent of local election offices send information directly to voters. That leaves the voters to fend for themselves when it comes to looking up information about polling places, voter ID and other election logistics.

Chisnell and her team spent the months before the 2012 presidential election cataloging 147 election websites and conducting user tests with more than 40 participants. The results showed that voters aren’t apathetic. In fact, voting is incredibly personal. This is where Chisnell sees journalism lending a hand.

There’s an information gap that journalism is uniquely qualified to fill. Election officials are not information architects, which means many of the questions voters have before Election Day are difficult to look up on local websites. The most sought after question in 2012 was simply, “What’s on the ballot?” The websites did not help answer this question, and only found it about 60 percent of time.

To compel people to vote and overcome the temptation to give up because of the lack of information, journalists need to project personal meaning to the act of voting. Voting is personal: What will be different in MY life and community if these measures pass or this person is elected? Stories focused on the effects of election results can compel voter turnout.

The main takeaway: Journalists need to tell stories about how election results will affect people on a personal level. Chisnell encourages you to “bring back the meaning.”