Grading State Disclosure 2008 Logo Graphic

Online Contextual and Technical Usability

golden bar divider

Usability: Top States
1. Michigan Grade: A+
2. Idaho Grade: A+
3. Minnesota & Washington (tied) Grade: A
Most Improved States
Since 2007
Since 2003
1. Arizona 1. Iowa &
Kansas (tied)
2. Montana
3. Connecticut 3. Arizona
Over the five Grading State Disclosure assessments, the Online Contextual and Technical Usability category has proven to be the most difficult area for states to earn an A, with just four As received in 2008. However, this category has seen tremendous improvement since Grading State Disclosure 2003 when no state earned an A and 27 states failed in this area. Due to both higher performance on the study’s usability test and enhancements to disclosure web sites, 31 states earned higher grades in this category than in 2007. Just five states received an F in 2008 and twelve states that failed in 2007 earned passing grades in 2008. Fourteen states earned Bs, 13 earned Cs, and 14 earned grades in the D range.
  • States with the best contextual and technical web site usability, in rank order from one to ten, are: Michigan; Idaho; Minnesota and Washington (tied for 3rd); Kansas and Massachusetts (tied for 5th); California and Iowa (tied for 7th); Arizona; and Virginia.
  • States with the weakest contextual and technical web site usability, in rank order from 40 to 50, are: Mississippi, Oregon and Vermont (tied for 40th); Montana; Alabama and Georgia (tied for 44th); Nebraska; Delaware; Wyoming; New Hampshire; and New Mexico.

Significant 2008 findings:

  • 23 states offer online overviews of campaign finance data, including comparisons of total amounts raised and spent by candidates;
  • 21 of these states offer overviews of both the most recent and past legislative races; 20 post analyses of both statewide and legislative campaigns;
  • 2 states (Oregon and Vermont) offer campaign finance analyses of past elections;
  • 50 states post information about campaign finance restrictions and disclosure requirements online;
  • 45 state disclosure web sites feature lists of candidates for the most recent or current election;
  • 22 states provide comprehensive information explaining which disclosure reports are available online;
  • 4 states provide little or no detail explaining which disclosure reports are available online; and
  • 39 disclosure web sites are easily located from their state homepage by either navigating or searching the main state site.

Significant changes since 2007:

  • 8 states improved their explanations of which reports can be found on their disclosure web sites;
  • 9 states improved instructions for accessing campaign finance data online;
  • 6 states improved the terminology used on their disclosure web sites (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma);
  • 2 states added or made improvements to summary campaign finance information on their web sites (Arizona and Hawaii); and
  • 4 states expanded the scope of campaign finance information available online to include both original reports and clearly labeled amendments (Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, and South Carolina).

Context and Usability of Disclosure Web Sites

In the Online Contextual and Technical Usability category, state disclosure web sites are assessed on the quality and quantity of contextual information and instructions provided to the public in order to use the disclosure site with confidence. Explanations of state campaign finance rules, regulations, and trends provide a context for understanding campaign disclosure data. Additionally, a clear description of the data available on the site and simple, straightforward instructions improve the public’s ability to use campaign disclosure web sites to find their desired data. To measure the usability of a state’s disclosure web site, the Campaign Disclosure Project conducts a usability test to determine the average site user’s ability to easily, efficiently, and confidently extract specific disclosure data from the web.

Explanation of the Data Available Online

Most state disclosure agencies provide a brief description of the scope and availability of disclosure data on their web sites. Forty-six states offer at least a minimal amount of information as to the scope of data online and 22 of these states’ disclosure sites offer thorough descriptions of the data available, including the offices for which candidate data is accessible, the time period covered by the data, and which types of disclosure reports can be viewed on the site. Since the 2007 assessment, eight states added information to improve the public’s ability to determine the scope of the data available, including Arkansas, Arizona, and Tennessee that did so as part of overall enhancements to their web sites.

Instructions for Site Users

Clear instructions for researching campaign data online are an important factor in determining how user-friendly a disclosure site is, particularly for new visitors. As noted above, most states offer online, searchable databases that allow users to collect specific campaign finance data, though not all sites offer instructions for operating these complex interfaces. Instructions, tips, and hints throughout the disclosure site are to key to ensuring that all users (from novice to advanced) can access campaign finance information online with confidence. Twenty-five of the state disclosure sites feature thorough instructions for users. Among the 24 remaining sites that feature campaign finance data, 20 offer at least some instruction to the public while four sites lack any real guidance for users.

Usability Testing

2008 Usability Test Top Performing States
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington

The largest factor in a state’s grade in the Online Contextual and Technical Usability category is the study’s usability test, which accounts for over one-third of the total points in the category. The test measures the public’s ability to locate a disclosure web site from a state’s homepage and extract accurate answers to specific questions about candidate campaign finance activity (see appendices for the complete test methodology). There was a significant improvement in the test results overall in 2008 as far more testers were able to successfully navigate from the state homepage to the disclosure site in order to attempt the remaining tasks. That first step proved key as all of the tests were completed more quickly in 2008 and 32 states performed better than in 2007. Despite more efficient testing in 2008, just 34 percent of testers rated their experiences on a disclosure site favorably while 40 percent were rated poorly and 26 percent were average. 

Campaign Finance Analysis

Twenty-three state disclosure web sites provide information to help the public understand how a candidate’s campaign finances compare to overall state trends. On these disclosure sites, the public can better understand the role of money in state politics by reviewing one candidate’s financial activity compared to that of other candidates, or the totals raised and spent in one election relative to past campaigns. Twenty-one states provide both current and historical data online, 20 of which offer both statewide and legislative candidate comparisons. While a few states have removed archived comparison information from their web sites since the 2007 assessment, two states (Oregon and Vermont) have preserved such historical data through 2004. Hawaii added an overview of 2006 elections and Arizona debuted a new campaign comparison tool on its disclosure site in 2008.

Finance Analysis

click image to enlarge

Amended Reports

Posting all of a candidate’s disclosure reports online, including those that have been amended, is an important part of providing the public with a complete view of the candidate’s filing history. The public can view both original and amended campaign filings on 36 state disclosure web sites, including Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Montana, and South Carolina, all of which added this feature since the last assessment. Thirty-six states retain both original and amended reports, 34 of which clearly label amendments as such, including Iowa, Montana, and South Carolina, which all improved in this area in 2008. By comparison, Grading State Disclosure 2003 noted that just 23 states posted both originals and clearly-labeled amendments. Of the 14 states that do not retain original filings when amendments are posted online, six states (California, Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) clearly identify reports that have been amended.

Site Redesigns

To meet the rising expectations of the public, and to take advantage of new web tools, disclosure agencies continue to improve and redesign their web sites. Grading State Disclosure 2007 found that over one-third of states had redesigned or restructured their disclosure sites since the 2005 assessment. Since the 2007 assessment, 14 states (Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) have redesigned their disclosure sites and Utah is scheduled to complete a redesign in 2008. Twelve other states also enhanced the navigability of their disclosure sites or added new features to make data easier to access. While a complete overhaul of a disclosure web site is often not posssible due to financial and/or technological limitations, even minor improvements to terminology or navigation tools, such as the graphic icons that debuted on the redesigned disclosure sites of Illinois, Kansas, and North Carolina, can go a long way to making a site more user-friendly for the public.


Back to Disclosure Content Accessibility Next to State-by-State Grade and Ranking

Back to the Grading State Disclosure home page


First published September 17, 2008
| Last updated September 17 2008
copyright ©
Campaign Disclosure Project. All rights reserved.