Expanded Voter Information Tool Will Provide More People with Access to Nonpartisan Voter Information

The League of Women Voters has announced it will expand access to VOTE411.org, a site for nonpartisan information on elections and candidates in all 50 states.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $100,000 to support new delivery tools for VOTE411 information, helping to extend its reach to at least one million more people – including 200,000 from underrepresented groups.

Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest of all established democracies.

In fact, presidential year turnout is around 60 percent and midterm turnout is around 40 percent. The 2014 election had a 42 percent turnout rate, the lowest since 1942.

One of the more common reasons why people don’t vote is lack of information, the nonprofit said.

The League of Women Voters has run VOTE411.org since 2006. It answers common questions on candidate qualifications, the ballot, polling places and administrative rules. Since its creation, nearly 20,000 websites have linked to the site and 25 million people have accessed the information through VOTE411. The League anticipates that three million people will use the site in 2016, up from two million in 2012, the last presidential election year.

In 2014, the League of Women Voter’s tested an embeddable application that would allow media outlets, government agencies, elections officials and nonprofits to share VOTE411 information on their websites, meeting voters where they are. With Knight funding, the League will expand, develop and market the tool in order to reach millions more people, including those from underrepresented groups. The tool will provide information on all candidates involved in a particular race as well as a broad range of topics of interest to the community.

“Elections ensure that communities are informed and the needs of people are fairly represented. As such, low voter turnout undermines the health of individual communities,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “By providing nonpartisan and reliable information about elections and partnering with news organizations and others to widen their reach, the League of Women Voters will help increase participation in elections and help build a stronger democracy.”

“If people don’t vote and use their voice, someone will speak for them,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund. “This work will help us build a democracy where more voters have easy access to reliable information.”

Funding for the League of Women Voter’s is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to help ensure citizens have access to important information to help them make decisions about their communities and build stronger democracies. Knight has made many investments in this area including more than $3 million to winners of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, announced in July 2015.


New Report Ranks Voter Turnout in All 50 States – PA Ranked 30th

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Nonprofit VOTE released its biennial voter turnout report, America Goes to the Polls 2014, based on final data certified by state election offices.
The report ranks voter turnout in all 50 states to look at major factors underlying voter participation in this
historically low-turnout election.
How did Pennsylvania rank? With 36.7 percent of eligible voters turning out to the polls, the Keystone State ranked 30th.
While just 36.6 percent of eligible citizens voted, the lowest in a midterm since World War II, turnout varied widely across states by as much as 30 percentage points. Maine led the nation with 58.5 percent turnout among eligible voters, follow by Wisconsin at 56.8 percent, and Colorado at 54.5 percent.
The states with Election Day Registration had the highest voter participation rates averaging 48 percent, 12 points higher than the turnout in states without it. EDR allows voters to correct a registration problem when they vote. Seven of the top 10 turnout states have EDR.
None of the bottom 10 turnout states have EDR. Four states-Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and the District of Columbia-used it for the first time in a midterm election bringing the number of EDR states to 13.
As of February 2015, Election Day Registration legislation had been proposed in 14 additional states, including
Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah
and Vermont.

“While opponents of the legislation have argued that Election Day Registration places undue burdens on state election officials, the technologies we have today make it far easier than in the past,” said George Pillsbury, founder of Nonprofit VOTE.  “The success of EDR states over 40 years shows it works and no voter need be turned away because of a problem with their registration.”

Competition was a major driver bringing voters to the polls. Voter turnout averaged 11 points or 33 percent higher in the 22 states with competitive statewide races for U.S. Senate or Governor compared to states without one. Nine of the top ten turnout states had a competitive statewide contest while 19 of the bottom 20 had none. Meanwhile competition in House races plummeted with only 39 of 435 seats ranked close or a toss-up by the Cook Political Report compared to 100 in 2010 and 57 in 2012.
The report recommends additional policy changes that could improve the registration process and foster greater voter participation. These include pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, implementing best practices in early voting, allowing ex-offenders to regain their voting rights and using nonpartisan redistricting commissions to oversee decennial redistricting–similar to recommendations made by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The report’s ranking is based on the certified counts of total votes cast as a percentage of their state’s voting eligible population.
Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Texas and Indiana made up the bottom five all with less than 30 percent of their eligible voters participating.
“Clearly there’s much work to do to foster a healthy democracy when well below half the electorate votes in a national election,” states Brian Miller, executive director of Nonprofit VOTE. “The good news is that higher turnout states show us how we can increase voter turnout across the nation.”