The Illinois State Board of Elections debuted a new website last week that officials say will make information easier to access at quicker speeds. This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the board's new website and weighs its pros and cons.




The Illinois State Board of Elections debuted a new website last week that officials say will make information easier to access at quicker speeds.


The new site, found at the same www.elections.il.gov location, essentially offers the same material with a different look. And with another six months until November's general election, the board has ample time to fix any kinks that may arise.


This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the board's new website and weighs its pros and cons.


Q: What was wrong with the old website?


A: The board's old website was confusing for many users, rigged with mountains of information but no clear sense of organization.


Users had trouble getting to forms or files they needed and the site frequently crashed when it encountered abnormally high levels of traffic like on election days. 


"Over the years, we had always heard we had a pretty good site but that it was sometimes difficult to maneuver around, difficult to find information," said Dan White, executive director of the board. "It's not that the information wasn't there, but it was difficult for first-timers to find it."


Q: What's different with the new website?


A: The site still provides the same information, but with a facelift. Visitors will notice a more user-friendly homepage that caters to different groups of people.


For example, a special home page for voters shows links and information most helpful to that group, such as voter registration and candidate information.


Other groups, such as educators, are provided learning resources such as pamphlets on understanding campaign disclosure.


Candidates, political committees, reporters, businesses and local election officials also have unique home pages with information relevant to those groups.


"Our big objective was to organize the site better," White said. "We think the site is more what people, users who utilize the Internet, are used to seeing in terms of organization and icons and in terms of where to go."


But after the simplicity factor, the site remains relatively unchanged. Once you get deeper into the site, the old look begins to creep back in for pages such as candidate filing searches.


Mary-Lou Aagaard, an election law issue specialist for the League of Women Voters, said she frequently used the board's old site with ease but initially found the new site a bit cluttered.


"I thought it was kind of busy," she said. "But I really haven't made an effort yet to try and access to see if I could find the things I was looking for before."


Q: Does the new website fix any of the crashing problems we experienced on Election Day?


A: Election officials are hopeful, and with good reason.


White said the new site runs off three servers and uses fiber-optic cables, which should significantly increase speeds during peak traffic time.


The board has received more than 290,000 web hits since April alone, White said, and no problems have been reported in terms of slow speeds. The true test won't come until the first filing or election date, when the site often hits its peak Web traffic, White said.


In any case, he seemed optimistic.


"I would say (slowness) is a thing of the past," he said.


Q: Will the new website be easier to navigate?


A: Simply put, yes. But it's not that easy.


The majority of the site's visitors are looking for one thing: campaign finance disclosure. The old site was usable for those who were experienced with it. But for newcomers, the site could be intimidating.


The new site makes finding disclosure reports easier - only if you know how to look for them.


The "Google-like" search bar featured prominently on the site's home page can produce glitches. A simple search for "Pat Quinn" turned up a handful of irrelevant documents, while a search for "Bill Brady" brought back a host of old voting totals.


If you're looking for either of the governor candidate's disclosure reports - or any candidates reports - you would have to navigate to the site's candidate disclosure search, which can be found on the site's side "Menu" bar.


Brian Feldt can be reached at 217-782-6292 or Brian.feldt@sj-r.com.