State launches new site to ease voting, election procedures

Published September 5, 2002

LANSING (AP) - Michigan is leading the way nationally by offering voters an Internet site that will tell them if they're registered to vote, where to vote, how to get to their polling places and who will be on the ballot.

The new Voter Information Center was unveiled yesterday by state officials.

Secretary of State Candice Miller said it's the first state website in the country to provide such comprehensive voter- and election-related information.

"In any election, there are always instances when voters go to the wrong polling place or assume they were registered to vote in one jurisdiction or precinct when they were actually registered in another," said Miller, who previewed the new center.

"The Voter Information Center cuts through the confusion by providing voters immediate access to the information they need, including their voter registration status and location of their polling place."

Miller demonstrated the system by entering her name and hometown of Harrison Township.

A map immediately appeared showing the address and location of her Macomb County polling place.

She had two warnings: The system depends on information supplied by local clerks, and it can't force people to actually vote.

"I don't know if it will help with voter turnout," she said. "Obviously, government can't make them vote."

Miller is a Republican, but that didn't stop a Democratic state senator who has worked to improve Michigan elections from praising the Voter Information Center.

"I think it's very positive," said Sen. Dianne Byrum, (D-Onondaga). "This makes it easier to fulfill your right to vote."

She warned, however, that the state must make sure local clerks are doing their job properly registering voters and updating records for the system to work as it should.

"There's a potential weak link," Byrum said.

"There needs to be stronger relations between the secretary of state and the local clerks."

The site will provide the names of statewide candidates on the ballot, but not those running for local races.It also will list ballot proposals and campaign finance information.

Voters can get detailed instructions on using the voting equipment at their particular polling place from the site, as well as updated election results once the election is over.

The Voter Information Center is produced in partnership with the nonprofit organization Publius, which concentrates on developing Web tools to enhance citizen participation in elections.

The basis for the Voter Information Center is the state's Qualified Voter File, which provides the voter registration database Publius uses to generate search results.

The Voter Information Center also interacts with two department programs - the Citizens' Guide to Voting Systems and the Michigan Electronic Voting Guide, which was revised this year to accept candidate statements and photographs over the Internet.

The State Department said the Guide lets candidates running for statewide office post a statement and photograph.

It also provides links to candidate websites, e-mail addresses and campaign finance reports.