December 21, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Two doors down from the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., local governments accepted awards for their portals at the Center for Digital Government's Best of the Web awards ceremony in September. Although many of the awards went to portals fulfilling the goal of delivering government services online, other portals earned accolades by using Web technology to help citizens better communicate with their governments. Here's a sampling of the honorees.
Salt Lake County Online Voter Registration System Could be Statewide Model
Utah is developing online voter registration functionality, and it may use Salt Lake County's system as a template, according to a county official.
Salt Lake County is currently the only municipality in Utah that lets residents submit voter registration forms online, said Julio Garcia, director of the Salt Lake County Employees' University and former director of elections for the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.
Citizens complete voter registration forms online, then click "send" to transfer their data to an electronic "holding table." They also print a copy of the form, sign it and mail it to the County Clerk. That printed form contains a bar code - which a county clerk employee scans upon arrival - that retrieves the information from the holding table and sends it to the registration database.
The system may dramatically reduce the percentage of registration forms the county rejects due to missing data.
The office now rejects 10 percent of all mailed voter registration forms. The figure is even higher for residents who register to vote through the Utah Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV); their forms are rejected nearly 50 percent of the time, Garcia said.
It's horrible because the DMV's form is not intuitive and people miss lines they're supposed to complete, Garcia said.
Voters registering online, by contrast, get their forms rejected less than 0.5 percent of the time, according to Garcia. Those rejections happen in rare instances when online registrants don't sign and mail the printed version of the form.
The online registration tool also saves the clerk's office from entering thousands of registration forms from unaffiliated voters who want to vote in Republican primaries. The Utah Republican Party lets unaffiliated voters become Republicans on the day of its primary and vote.
Offenders Check in Online With Pretrial Services in Arapahoe County, Colo.
Arapahoe County, Colo., reversed plans in May 2008 to hire two additional administrative staffers when the county's Judicial Services Online Check-In Web tool eliminated the need for them, said Marsha Adams, senior business analyst of Arapahoe County. The Web tool lets unimprisoned or supervised suspects awaiting trial conduct their weekly check-ins online with pretrial services.
Before the online tool, defendants checked in with pretrial services one to three times per week via telephone to report changes in employment, home address, legal name or any new contact with police they may have had. The department's front desk administrator fielded almost 200 calls weekly and entered the information into an access system for suspects' supervisory officers.
Call volume increased as the county placed more suspects under pretrial supervision to ease jail crowding. Judicial Services planned to hire two additional employees to handle the calls, but it would have cost the county nearly $35,000 each annually, said Rita Pollock, IT director of the county. When the online check-in tool proved it could gather the information that Judicial Services collected over the phone, the department rescinded its request for more staff.
Blogging Takes Oakland County, Mich., to Top
The Oakland County portal's emphasis on blogs from public officials propelled it to the top county honor. However, most of the chatter at the event, regarding Oakland County, was about its Labor Day weekend 'Blogin' Café. At the region's annual Arts, Beats &