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Smart phone technology supports voter objectives

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If you’re counting reasons to buy a smart phone this holiday season, here’s another: you’re going to be able to assist your civic responsibility with one.

By MELODY JAMESON

If you’re counting reasons to buy a smart phone this holiday season, here’s another: you’re going to be able to assist your civic responsibility with one.

Both Hillsborough’s Supervisor of Elections and the Florida League of Women Voters are aiming to make it as easy as a snap and a click to connect and update your voter records, using tag code and smart phone technology.

Tags are those square, usually black and white symbols that somewhat resemble the now-innocuous bar codes which turn up everywhere and contain information often scanned, read and inputted when a purchase is made. Tags also are information-containing symbols that can be scanned, read and used, this time by citizens, to accomplish an objective, usually free of charge. However, to make them work, smart phone users must download the appropriate free app from the app store.

The information-centric little squares rapidly are being appropriated for a range of purposes. They now are being spotted on business cards, for example, those printed must-have tools in every organization and for every individual in contact with potential clients. In such use, they usually contain the same pertinent information printed on the card – names, addresses, telephone, fax numbers, email addresses – but make it so very easy for the recipient to access the information – a click on the tag and it’s all there on a screen. Once stored electronically, the data is available even if the card gets buried somewhere in the paper shuffle, is made illegible by that spilled hot chocolate or is playfully grabbed by the new puppy looking for teething relief.

For those concerned with voter services, though, the objective is specific: connect registered voters and not-yet-registered citizens with the office quickly, painlessly, conveniently, even while mobile.
In Hillsborough’s Supervisor of Elections office, work now is underway to design its “QR (quick response) code tag” which soon will turn up on numerous types of office printed materials put in the hands of voters and potential voters, according to Craig Latimer, chief of staff.

Then, when a smart phone- equipped citizen wants to connect with the office during business hours, all that will be required to complete that link is a click on or photo snap of the tag from a piece of office literature by the user and, voila! , citizen can punch the numbers or go to the website or save a mailing address, Latimer explained.

It’s an efficient means of delivering many voter services - helping citizens update addresses, make name changes, designate party affiliations, request mail-in ballots, he added. The technology also can be utilized to access the office website and to send an email to the office outside conventional office hours.

Earl Lennard, Hillsborough’s elections supervisor, said this week he expects his tag system to be in place in about two weeks. And, he added, “we’ll still conduct elections office business the old fashioned way, too.”

On the state level, the League of Women Voters (LWV) has partnered with Microsoft Corporation to test the same type of technology in other elections supervisors’ offices up and down the peninsula. “We’re the first organization in the nation to try this,” Jessica Lowe-Minor, state LWV executive director in Tallahassee, told The Observer this week.

League personnel have been meeting with supervisors from around the state and at least a dozen of them now are preparing to incorporate use of the Microsoft tag in their office operations, noted Charlie Williams, LWV’s state voter services chairman.

Smart phone users in those counties can tie into the Microsoft concept and download a free mobile app for their units from http://gettag.mobi. They then can use the phone unit to scan the Microsoft tag and utilize either a League tag or their county supervisor’s tag. Either route will take the caller to their county elections offices where the same voter service objectives can be accomplished.

The Florida League last week launched a state-wide voter service campaign titled “Be Ready To Vote,” aimed at encouraging voters already registered to ensure their information is accurately recorded and to prompt citizens not yet registered to do so before the upcoming election season begins. The campaign encompasses the new tag technology, suggesting it as a speedy, simple way citizens with smart phones in hand can connect with their county elections offices and manage their civic responsibilities.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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