Technicity Times
    Issue 1 • November 2002

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Community Technology Centers Give Voters a Voice, Not Just a Vote.
By James Lau

This election, community technology centers have provided online voter education and registration resources to improve Internet literacy while bridging the gap between political opinion and civic involvement. Through a range of on-site classes, a statewide voter registration campaign, and online information on candidates, ballot measures and step-by-step tutorials to prepare first-timers for the polls, underserved communities were given an opportunity to influence the political debate and to stand and have their voices counted.

Many government and voter services are now available online and many more services are in the process of being placed on the Web. Consequently, having access to a computer and the Internet can offer significant savings that can accrue to individuals and to government by allowing citizens to take care of government business — without taking time off work — but also to communicate and express concerns with candidates, government employees and elected officials. Unfortunately, many low-income families still do not own a computer, and therefore miss out on these time- and cost-saving features.

However, many residents of low-income communities do have other alternatives, namely, their local community technology program. By making government services available, community technology programs are positioning themselves as an important resource to the community and as a liaison for the government to reach those who may have little to no interaction with government agencies. Utilizing friendly program staff who are familiar with operating computers and navigating the Internet, community technology programs can help these individuals access government services, and, in the process, become more proficient using computers and the Internet to address their life needs.

Low-income individuals can conduct government business after work and in their neighborhood, instead of having to take time off of work to travel to a remote location. There are also savings to government from the reduced need for facilities and staff to provide government services. Finally, this effort could result in community technology programs receiving government resources to provide e-Government services.

TRYING OUT THIS IDEA THROUGH A VOTER REGISTRATION PROJECT

With elections here, a natural hook to showcase e-Government services has been the state's online voter registration program. To begin to organize an effort along these lines, centers and current elected officials were invited to be part of the Statewide Online Voter Registration and Education Drive. Voters had the opportunity to meet with elected officials, display their center services to both candidates and the media, and help generate interest and support for resources that support e-Government services through community technology programs.

This effort proved a valuable way to test out this e-Government idea and learn what would be required for centers to operate as providers of broader web-based services.

MAKING A POWERFUL STATEMENT

To make the greatest possible impact, this effort centered around two types of activities: online voter registration and voter education.

Centers were encouraged to post fliers in community technology centers to notify the public about this opportunity, lead a class on how to register to vote and notify local media and elected officials about this effort. After the deadline to register to vote passed, centers could then provide online resources to educate voters about the voting process, candidates, political parties and ballot measures. One example is posted at http://www.cctpg.org/other/elections/online-resources.htm

SAMPLE ELECTION TOOLKIT

  1. Elected Official Invitation Template
  2. Media Press Release Template
  3. Voter Registration Flier
  4. Step-by-Step Guide to Registering to Vote Online
  5. Elected Officials Confirmation Letter
  6. E-lection 101 Curriculum
  7. Voter Education Online Resources

For more information on the voter registration and education project, as well as other best practices, visit www.childrenspartnership.org and www.techpolicybank.org.


James Lau is technology program manager for The Children's Partnership. jlau@childrenspartnership.org

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