Cheap and Easy BOE Web Sites

From Tompkins County

More and more the general public expects to find election related information and forms on the Internet. Very few BOE’s in New York have the luxury of a fulltime person or department dedicated to building and maintaining a website. However, developing your own web site doesn’t have to be a costly or time-consuming affair. Our experience shows that one person, spending just a few hours a month, can provide you with an extremely effective Internet presence.

A lot of you probably are in the same situation we are; our county Information Technology Department provides other departments with a link from the county’s homepage where they can post information. It’s then up to each department to maintain their own web page(s). Some departments have just one page that lists contact information. Others develop a whole site with links to information sheets, forms, etc.

You don’t need a degree in computer technology to work on a website, but you do need a very basic understanding of website creation software. A popular program, the one we use, is called Dreamweaver. It costs about $240. Another popular choice is Microsoft’s FrontPage, which can be purchased for under $200. I’d recommend you use the same program your IT department does. A little training using either program goes a long way, but in-program tutorials and a “Dummies” book can suffice.

About a year ago we decided to overhaul and expand our very basic website. We figured the time spent fixing up the site would pay off in less phone calls and administrative work in the office, and it most certainly has. The initial redesign took quite a few hours of work, since it was like starting from scratch, but now it doesn’t take more than a few hours a month to maintain the site.

One of the changes that had a huge impact was to change our website address. Previously we were stuck with the address the county assigned us, “ www.tompkins-co.org/boe.” Which was not easy to remember or to tell someone over the phone. While that is still our address, you can now also reach us by using the much easier to remember “ www.votetompkins.com.”

We did this by registering the “votetompkins.com” domain name at Domains Priced Right (contact them at Support@secureserver.net). It cost us about $80 to reserve the name for ten years. We were then able to set it up so that when someone types “ www.votetompkins.com” into their browser, they are automatically redirected to “ www.tompkins-co.org/boe.” The user never even notices.

There are lots of other companies that provide domain registration and redirect service. (Yahoo was another one we considered.) They’ll even host your web site, if your own county doesn’t already, and help with development and maintenance. Of course the more services you use, the more you’ll pay.

We promoted our new name in the local newspapers, and include it on all of our correspondence and literature. From our website the public can print out most any form they need, such as Registration, Absentee Applications, or FOIL requests. They can access current and past election results, and information about all their elected representatives.

A key to keeping our web site useful and effective is anticipating and paying attention to the requests coming into the office, then making sure that information is available on-line. A good website is a constant work in progress. For example, knowing that petition season was approaching, we posted all the signature requirements for local races. And of course, timely posting of election results is extremely important.

Our new web site was a big “hit” with the public. (Web site usage is reported as “hits”, which represents how many times a resource has been accessed over the Internet.) We were the most visited site on the county server during October and November 2004. In those two months, we had 17, 276 hits, or 7,518 visitors. 4,175 hits were to view the Sample Ballot, 3147 were to view Polling Place information, and 1,770 were to view Absentee information. After the election, we had 680 hits on the Results page.

Our “cheap and easy” website has saved us time and money. But more importantly, it’s allowed the public quick and easy access to information and forms, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from most anywhere in the world.