Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Documents at the State Board of Elections

Over on the Capitol Fax Blog, there has been some critical discussion about the new website of the State Board of Elections during the past few days. Most criticism seems directed at an over reliance on Javascript for navigation and browser compatibility issues. To his credit, Executive Director Dan White did personally respond, welcomed suggestions, and assured us that the Board is "working hard to establish both near term and long term solutions."

Nonetheless, what seems not yet to have been widely addressed is the lack of some basic functionality that one might expect from a website such as this. For example, the Candidate Office Filing Search allows visitors to find out at what time candidate paperwork was filed; but the site does not allow that same paperwork to then be viewed or otherwise accessed online.

I contacted the Board and was told that the only way to get a copy of such paperwork was to either travel to Springfield or Chicago and pay a quarter for each page. This, to me, seems somewhat unreasonable, considering that a good number of Illinois residents, and the candidates running in their districts, live nowhere near either Springfield or Chicago. (East Moline is about 162 miles from Chicago, while Carbondale is about 171 miles from Springfield.)

It would not be difficult for the Board to make all of these filings available online. They wouldn't even need to do any time consuming data entry--simply scan each document when and as filed and make it available as a downloadable Portable Document (PDF) or Tagged Image File (TIFF).

Scanning the documents wouldn't take much more effort than time stamping them, and the only real additional costs involved would be server storage and bandwidth. Not only would doing so be more convenient for Illinois citizens; but it would be more environmentally friendly, reducing the need for travel and cutting down on paper use.

Of course, if document imaging were to become a reality at the State Board of Elections, they wouldn't be able to charge their quarter per page; or then again, considering the policies of other branches, such as the Electronic Access Policy for Circuit Court Records of the Illinois Courts, maybe they could and would. What do you think?

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