Winter 2004-2005

e-Lection: Using Technology to Involve Communities in the Election Process
by Oscar Madrigal and James Lau

Programs in Brief

The program consisted of two parts: the e-Lection Program and the 2004 Youth and Technology Candidate Information Program. The e-Lection Program provided a way for community technology programs to engage residents in a non-partisan education and voter registration campaign. The latter provided information about how community technology plays a role in providing access and training in technology to youth, to all of the candidates running for state office and the California delegation of the House of Representatives.

The e-Lection Program

The goals of the e-Lection program are to inform the electorate, teach them how they can make change in their communities, and cultivate candidates to be concerned and knowledgeable about community technology. This is accomplished by providing voters with information they need to make educated decisions regarding elected officials, propositions and access to documents and services they need to participate in election activities.

The e-Lection 101 curriculum teaches people how to use the Internet to register to vote and learn about the election process and ballot issues. Part of the curriculum involves teaching participants how to become educated voters, and provides a list of websites that voters can access that are created by government and non-partisan groups that help them explore and learn more about the candidates and issues that appear on the ballot. The e-Lection 101 curriculum also instructs voters on absentee voting and finding the location of their polling place.

Community technology centers can become advocates for their issues and programs by inviting candidates for public office to learn more about community technology through issue briefings and visits to a nearby community technology programs; this creates an opportunity for centers to interact with potential elected officials. e-Lection provides community technology programs with the tools to engage candidates and provide them with information pertinent to the issues of community technology. One especially successful e-Lection program was implemented by the Firebaugh Computer Learning Center, in central California, which hosted voter education seminars in English and Spanish. The Firebaugh CLC also co-hosted a community/candidates meet and greet, where community members invited candidates to a session to learn about each other, what residents are concerned with, and what candidates feel are priorities. According to Executive Director Linda Lopez, “This was a first for Firebaugh. No one had ever organized an event, forum, or any interaction with candidates. We have discovered that our CTC has become recognized as a force for change!”

Youth and Technology Candidate Information Program

The 2004 Youth and Technology Candidate Information Program reached out to over 400 candidates running for public office and was created to brief candidates about the issue of technology readiness for youth. By providing information as well as surveying the candidates on the issues of youth and technology, CCTPG was able to prompt candidates to consider the issues and better understand their positions on youth and technology. Results of the non-partisan survey were made available to community technology programs and the public. Responses to the survey also provide community technology programs with better information to plan strategically for the future.

The process of conducting the survey itself is a testament to the use of technology in election activities. By using a web-based survey tool, CCTPG was able to conduct the data gathering online. Candidates also had the opportunity to download a Word or PDF document file from the CCTPG website.

This program was a good opportunity to provide policy ideas to those who would be affecting policy decisions around technology. These policy ideas involve a variety of subjects from partnerships with schools and community technology centers, providing e-government services through CTCs, workforce investment programs and tax incentives for broadband providers to create infrastructure in underserved communities, to name a few. Having CCTPG’s name in the eyes of potential public officials also helps to establish relationships with those candidates who are elected to office.

One of the most significant parts of the questionnaire is the section pertaining to the candidates’ own work relating to youth and technology and recommendations from candidates on steps that should be taken by the state government to ensure technology readiness. One such response was: “State Government must itself stay current in its use of technology. Technology provides an opportunity to make government services more efficient, thereby reducing costs. E-government programs that utilize community technology centers for vital business can ease the burden on government offices, and reduce state costs.”

All the responses to the 2004 Youth and Technology Candidate Information program are available for review.

Lessons Learned

The e-Lection and the 2004 Youth and Technology Candidate Information program yield some important lessons for community technology advocates.

  • The program is a valuable way to inform candidates on the issues of youth and technology. Be prepared for follow-up conversations if they have questions on the subject.
  • It is important to make sure that all election-related activities are non-partisan. The e-Lection materials included resources to help those planning election information activities to understand what is and is not allowed.
  • Be inclusive; reach out to all of the official candidates running for public office regardless of political affiliation. The secretary of state and county clerk’s offices will have contact information for all candidates are running for any available office.
  • It is also very important to have voter registration and education programs open to all that want to participate, this encourages more people to visit centers and is in keeping with the spirit of non-partisanship.
  • Allow time to prepare materials and for candidates to respond to survey questions. Candidates are constantly sent information packets and surveys from a variety of sources, so keeping the information fresh in their minds remains a challenge. One solution is e-mail announcements. CCTPG sent e-mail announcements before and reminders after packets and surveys were sent out to help ensure timely responses.
  • Partnerships among centers and other organizations in your community can help reach a broader audience and will ensure that voter education and registration drives reach the most people.

Looking Ahead – What You Can Do

Now that the 2004 elections are over, the resources can be used for future races, such as local races in 2005, like city council, mayoral, or county level offices. While local races do not generate as much attention as state or national races, they have just as big, if not bigger, effect on community technology programs. Examples of current policies taking place at the local level are broadband deployment, both wireline and wireless, and cable franchise renegotiations, which could lead to funding and equipment for community technology. In addition, because candidates running for local office cover and represent a smaller area and population, they can be more accessible, attentive, and responsive than state or national candidates.

To engage local candidates, many of the materials that were described above can be adapted for local use. The 2004 Youth and Technology Candidate Information Program can be used to educate local candidates about community technology issues, since many candidates still lack knowledge about community technology. Also, the e-Lection Program can continue to engage residents in the electoral process and to educate them about the candidates running for office. As part of this program, sites should host candidates at their centers, providing candidates a first-hand glimpse into the services offered by community technology programs and beginning to cultivate an inside ally who could secure resources for your program.

Another resource to help educate and engage candidates is Tech Policy Bank. At this site, to help you talk to candidates about why they should care about the issue, you will find fact sheets for all 50 states on the technological readiness of your state. In addition, you will find different examples of policies initiated by other cities to increase technology access and use.

Oscar Madrigal is Program Assistant at Community Partners. James Lau is Technology Program Manager at The Children’s Partnership. Both are active members of the CCTPG Steering Committee.


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