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electionlineWeekly — March 30, 2017

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I. In Focus This Week

If you want something done right, do it yourself
Seminole County, Florida’s supervisor of elections builds new website

By M. Mindy Moretti
electionline.org

With nearly 40 percent of visitors to the Seminole County, Florida supervisor of elections’ website visiting on a phone or tablet, Elections Supervisor Michael Ertel realized that the site simply wasn’t responsive and those using hand-held devices were getting less of an experience than the desktop users.

It had also been at least five years since the site was last redone and in the world of website modernization, five years is a lifetime.

“I wanted to equalize the experience for all visitors, regardless of their point of entry into our online presence,” Ertel explained.

So, after receiving quotes for thousands and thousands of dollars for a new website, Ertel decided to learn design and build the site himself.

“I looked at the scope of work they were proposing, checked out some of the sites they were touting as examples, and then looked into the small business web portals like SquareSpace, Wix, DudaOne, Wordpress-themed sites, and others,” Ertel explained. “I looked at their templates, and realized I could do what we needed myself.”

Seminole Website

The entire thing cost the county $299, which was the ultimate website-for-life plan from DudaOne. Other than Ertel’s time, no other money was spent.

The new site also allows the county to comply with new federal ADA regulations, as well as create a fully bilingual site. The old site was also using WordPress, which is not the most secure format. The new site is much more secure, including an SSL certificate for each page.  

Another benefit, is the supervisor of elections office now has 100 percent control of the design and content of the site, so the office can make changes on the fly, without having to contact the vendor and wait for a response.

“I have the ability with this platform to have geographic as well as time-based pop-ups appear on any page. This way, as sample ballots come out for a specific city, if a voter visits the site, from that city, we can have a pop-up appear letting them know the sample ballot is ready for their specific city,” Ertel explained. “Also, I can run a timed banner or pop-up on the site letting voters know what is happening right now, i.e., early voting is going on today until 7; or the polls close in two hours -- click here to find your neighborhood-based polling location.”

It took Ertel, who has a background in journalism and designed newspapers and newsletters when he was in the Army, a little less than a month of part time and weekend work to design the new site. 

“The core site was done in a week, but I massaged the design for a few weeks,” Ertel explained. “As for design and coding, I did it myself, but I did send beta versions of the site to some local web designers to have them do usability testing of it. I also had our staff check and update anything I put on there to make sure I provided the most current information.”

The response to the new site has been overwhelmingly positive, although people were skeptical when they found out Ertel was redoing the site himself.

“I announced on Facebook that I was redoing the site myself and got some negative feedback from people before it went live, as they assumed it would not look good,” Ertel said. “After the site was published, we have had universal praise for the design and functionality.”

Ertel said one of the key things to remember when redesign the was to lead the voters to the site. Everything above the fold or on the first screen visitors see, without scrolling, is about the voter. He included quotes and photos from real voters about they #VoteSeminole.

“That brings the entire community together around our operation. It's a very uniting message, as voting is a uniting function of our republic,” Ertel said.

He avoided jargon and wrote the site in plain-speaking terms. Phrases like "book closing" and "precincts" were replaced with "deadlines" and "neighborhood-based polling locations."  

Also, main calls to action tabs are written in first person, so voters can more easily define what each link does. Another thing was to reduce the number of visible options on the front page to those things which voters (through tracking earlier web stats, and also conducting a Facebook poll), most wanted to see. 

“As you know, I advocate that we are not just in the elections business, but the voter engagement and opportunity fulfillment business, so engaging our voters via social media during ‘the off season,’ keeps voters bookmarking our page and continually coming back,” Ertel explained. “The call to action to tell us why you #VoteSeminole on the top of the page is a perfect example of keeping our voters engaged.  As time goes, we'll update the featured voters, so the site will seem new every time you visit it.”