San Francisco Department of Election’s Step Toward Gov 2.0 Highlights Digital Divide
By: Victoria Holliday
Coming Soon: Paperless Voter Pamphlets in San Francisco?
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi recently introduced legislation that would allow voters to opt out of receiving voter information pamphlets by mail. Instead voters could choose to receive their sample ballot, voter pamphlet, notice of polling place and associated materials electronically via e-mail.
Electronic Voter Pamphlets in San Francisco Can Save Us Money
In addition to simplifying the process for those who prefer to receive voter information electronically, the law, the Mirkarimi law would allow the San Francisco Department of Elections to save the cost of printing and mailing paper versions of voter information pamphlets.
For the November 2010, election voter pamphlets cost 74 cents to produce and 19 cents to mail. With 477,651 registered voters in San Francisco County, that’s a cost of $468,097.98. Moreover, the cost varies depending on the amount of pamphlet pages. According to a report by the Pew Center on the States, the estimated sample ballot cost for the 270-page November 2008 general election in San Francisco County was $1,312,424 ($2.75 per voter).
There hasn’t been an estimate on how money much emailing voter pamphlets would save the city of San Francisco. The San Francisco Department of Elections currently only has email addresses for 20 percent of San Francisco voters. And even though just 20% of voters are currently able to take advantage of this e-Gov program, the city can save money.
And more than saving money – the digital format allows for voters to read and see more, and more substantial, information about candidates and initiatives. A digital Ballot Handbook could have short videos from candidates, clips of debates, links to position papers and other substinative information.
Reset SF is always championing creative ideas for a more effective city government – and here is a good example of one more small step towards saving money by utilizing technology.
However, since the Department of Elections only has 20 percent of registered voter email addresses, electronic-only pamphlets are still a long way off from actually being Gov 2.0.
Electronic Election Information Needs Universal Access
The move to provide voters with election information via e-mail further necessitates the need for Guaranteed Universal Access to Internet for all San Franciscans. While the cost of delivering information to voters can seem high, it is not as high as the cost of the increasing digital divide in San Francisco. And the substantial costs of preparing, printing and mailing information like the Ballot Handbook and so many other government mailings could be reduced – and eventually eliminated – by expanding Internet access.
As we work to move towards paperless voter pamphlets, we must also work to close the digital divide and ensure that Gov 2.0 advancements affect all San Franciscans.