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Your assignment for today *** UPDATED X4 ***

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

[Note: I’m going to keep this post at or near the top for most of the day because this problem absolutely has to be addressed.]

* Head over to the State Board of Elections’ website and try to look up a few candidate filings and campaign contributions.

I was supposed to go over to the State Board myself and tell them how badly they screwed up their website, but I just don’t have time to hold their little hands through this disaster. I sent an admittedly snippy e-mail to their webmaster after attempting numerous times - without success - to access a simple candidate filing and got an (understandably) snippy response (considering my subject line was: “You really screwed up your website”), along with this kicker…

I looked over and tested just about everything and it all seems to be in working condition.

Apparently, this person has no clue. I am repeatedly getting two error messages…

* One of those error messages reads, in part: “Your session has expired or you need to enable cookies on your web browser settings.”

Why would my session have to expire? Why would the State Board care? Also, cookies are enabled on my browser, so I don’t get it.

* The other common message reads: “Unexpected errors occurred trying to switch to next page.”

I am constantly getting this message on my Firefox browser. The error page claims that the Board has been “automatically notified of these errors,” yet the webmaster claims all is hunky dory.

Wrong.

They broke their site. Plain and simple.

Leave your own critiques in comments.

*** ADDING *** Please be specific. Most of us already know the Board’s site is a horror show. Don’t just vent. Point to specific error messages or problems you are having. Otherwise, your comment is worthless. Thanks much. :)

*** UPDATE 1 *** IlliniPundit weighs in

One of the big problems with campaign finance in Illinos is that the State Board of Elections collects a bunch of data, but they make it as inconvenient as possible for the public and press to access the data and pass it around.

More ease of use and convenience and greater public and media access to the data would do more to clean up Illinois politics than an ineffective feel-good measure like a contribution ban, yet nobody talks about how badly the State Board of Elections is screwing this up.

Their site is so broken that they’re basically hiding campaign finance data from the very people they’re supposed to be working for.

*** UPDATE 2 *** I should have mentioned this at the top, but the inability to open links in new tabs or windows is absolutely insane. Why would the Board want to keep people from using basic Internet browser functions? Outmoded and completely ridiculous.

*** UPDATE 3 *** Ben at TwoKings has more

I won’t even get started with the design issues. I could put up with the bad design if it was functional and smooth, and easy to interact with.

One of the biggest issues is that at times, when searching for various forms and pieces of data, you get various error messages. I’ve found that refreshing/reloading the browser can sometimes get you past the error message, but it is still a pain. The frustrating thing for me is that I’ve even had a hard time replicating the error. It seems, at least, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The second biggest issue I’ve had relates to browsing and navigation. Almost all of the internal navigation seems to rely on javascript. Javascript can be a useful tool, when used in moderation. However, it’s rarely a good tool for navigation. One reason is that it takes away certain tools that most users are comfortable with and used to. For example, you can’t right click a javascript link to open the link in a new window. Sometimes I like to use that feature. Okay, I often like to use that feature.

*** UPDATE 4 *** Elections Board executive director Dan White just sent me this e-mail…

In response to comments about problems with the SBE website, we hear them, we are aware of these issues and are working hard to establish both near term and long term solutions. Suggestions are always welcome and we continue to incorporate constructive recommendations to improve the website. Our goal is to provide access and avaiability to all of the thousands of users who rely on our information systems. As with any new system, there are new problems and issues to be addressed and resolved. Please continue to comment and utilize our website.

We will have significant improvements in place shortly and we look for your comments as we continue to implement these changes.

Thank you,
Dan White
Executive Director

I’m not holding my breath. We were promised a great, new website over a year ago (right around the time of my 2006 holiday party), and what we got was a giant pile of garbage. They need a new tech team.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

115 Comments
  1. - Aaron - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:43 am:

    I have been getting that message since they redesigned their site as well. Emailed them a couple of times with no response.


  2. - Suzanne - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:47 am:

    Hunky dory? It’s a disaster.

    The search engine misses things. And try switching from one committee to another and requesting, say, an expenditure report. You’ll get an error or, if you’re lucky, the 1st committee’s report.

    I have found that when I hit “refresh” I’m more likely to get where I want to go but all in all, you’re right, they broke the site. It stinks.


  3. - Way South of the Border - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:49 am:

    It’s awful. When I first got on it, I actually thought the site was down and an earlier version was put up as a quick backup. It is that far a step backwards.

    I’ve gone onto the new site many, many times, enough to get over any “paradigm paralysis” regarding the old site. I just cannot form an attachment to the new site.

    ISBE, I’m sorry if I ever took you for granted or failed to tell you how much I liked your (old) web site. Bring it back, please!


  4. - ChiCountryGuy - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:50 am:

    I find that the site was better designed and easier to use before they “updated” it.


  5. - Anon - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:51 am:

    I get the same errors. Also, i am unable to return to a report once i have clicked on the itemized contributions link. I have to start from the beginning, which is a pain in the neck becauae the site sucks.


  6. - Leigh - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:51 am:

    I am not having any trouble with it, I have FireFox. Maybe I just think it is working?????


  7. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:52 am:

    I have seen this issue with the Safari browser in Windows as well, sometimes after the redesign I get results for different candidates than the ones I am looking at.

    It is rather intermittent and I see it with Firefox as well, not with IE however.


  8. - PC - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:54 am:

    The old site worked fine for me, then they revamped it… and I started getting those errors.
    I complained about it then and got a similar email…

    They revamped it this time and not only is it harder to navigate and, therefore, less useful than ever, I still get the errors that pop up out of nowhere and derail any searching.

    You also can’t click and pull a link to open a new tab on Firefox.

    I thought the “old-old” format was the best …


  9. - IlliniPundit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 9:59 am:

    “One of those error messages reads, in part: “Your session has expired or you need to enable cookies on your web browser settings.””

    I get this error repeatedly when using FireFox, particularly when trying to access vote totals from previous elections.

    And they still inexplicably don’t have direct links to fundraising reports.

    The new website is an unmitigated disaster. It improves nothing from the old site, and breaks lots of features that used to work. I wonder how much they paid for it?


  10. - Lurking moderate - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:01 am:

    Try the site with IE.


  11. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:03 am:

    Lurking moderate, that’s no fix. I have a Mac, and IE doesn’t do updates for Apple. Also, many, many people shy away from IE for security reasons. I don’t blame them. If they built their site for IE and ignored other browsers, they should be fired.


  12. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:04 am:

    Worst “UPGRADE” since new Coke. Just awful!


  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:06 am:

    Chicago Cynic and others, please don’t just vent. Explain why it is the “worst ‘upgrade’ ever.” Thanks.


  14. - Jaded - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:12 am:

    I agree. I have been having trouble every since they went to the new format. The old site worked great and was actually easier to find stuff. Not only do you get kicked off and have to continually re-save their site as a trusted site, but the site is just harder to navigate. Also, there is no rhyme or reason for getting kicked off. You can pull up a report, open the report, open the contributions, and then open the expenditures and get kicked off. Why?

    I think their “webmaster” needs a few more sessions with Yoda, because a master yet they are not hmmmmm.


  15. - Mac User - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:13 am:

    Rich - as a fellow mac user on firefox I have had the same problem last week while looking up contributions. The site worked fine a year ago why did Blago have to completely screw it up to make it more user UNFRIENDLY ?


  16. - Jaded - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:15 am:

    Does IE mean Internet Explorer (sorry, I am not a techno weenie)? If so that is what I use, and it sucks just the same.


  17. - To Mac User - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:18 am:

    Gee, why would the Gov. not want people to be able to navigate through campaign contributions these days? :)


  18. - Jaded - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:19 am:

    Can’t blame the gov for this one. ISBE is not one of his agencies.


  19. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:20 am:

    Mac User, the governor is not directly responsible for the Board. For instance, even if he wanted to he couldn’t fire the Board’s computer team. The Board and the executive director have that power.


  20. - Dan S, a Voter & Cubs Fan - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:25 am:

    I tried it and with little problem found this:http://www.elections.il.gov/campaigndisclosure/ContribListSearches.aspx


  21. - @ IllinoisPundit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:27 am:

    Pretty easy to see why they don’t link directly to reports like that.

    Those reports are “snapshots” of what was filed at the time. If someone files an amendment, the amendment is tracked separately.

    So if you bookmark or link directly to a report, you get that version of the report. You would not see if it got amended or voided or re-filed or anything like that.

    If you really want quick access to potentially out-of-date data, just print it off and tack it to your wall. Problem Solved.


  22. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:28 am:

    Dan S, try clicking that link. It doesn’t go to the report you found.


  23. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:30 am:

    ===just print it off and tack it to your wall.===

    LOL. Yep.


  24. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:31 am:

    Also, right-clicking to open a link in a new tab does not work, which is downright goofy and so 20th Century.


  25. - Dan S, a Voter & Cubs Fan - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:33 am:

    Contributions List

    Return to Contributions Search

    Your search found 35 receipts totaling $122,250.00 for 1 candidates.
    Contributed By Amount Received By Description
    Armatas, Nancy
    440 N. Wabash
    Apt 4204
    Chicago, IL 60611 $500.00
    6/16/2004 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali
    6719 Stonewall
    Downers Grove, IL 60516
    Employer: Unable to verify following good faith efforts $1,000.00
    6/30/2000 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali
    6719 Stonewall
    Downers Grove, IL 60516
    Occupation: Marketing
    Employer: Nalco Chemical $5,000.00
    8/20/2002 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali
    6719 Stonewall
    Downers Grove, IL 60516
    Occupation: Marketing
    Employer: Nalco Chemical $25,000.00
    9/4/2002 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali
    12570 Derby Road
    Lemont, IL 60439
    Occupation: Financier
    Employer: Self Employed $5,000.00
    6/29/2005 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali
    12570 Derby Road
    Lemont, IL 60439
    Occupation: Financier
    Employer: Self Employed $25,000.00
    7/25/2003 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich
    Ata, Ali D.
    6719 Stonewall
    Downers Grove, IL 60516
    Occupation: Corporate Marketing
    Employer: Nalco Chemical $4,000.00
    7/30/2000 Individual Contribution
    Friends of Blagojevich


  26. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:38 am:

    ” … try switching from one committee to another and requesting, say, an expenditure report. You’ll get an error or, if you’re lucky, the 1st committee’s report.”

    I’ve seen this, too. It’s as if the site does not comprehend that we might have two open windows or tabs at the same time. Pursuing two different searches at the same time is a critical function for serious users, for example while cross-referencing contributions to receipts, as the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform so ably demonstrated with their excellent recent analysis of Rep. Annette Collins & Ald. Ed Smith.


  27. - Ela Observer - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:42 am:

    I’ve been seeing session timeouts between pages, even when using IE. Looks like someone was hired that doesn’t know how to code ASP.NET


  28. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:43 am:

    “… try clicking that link. It doesn’t go to the report you found.”

    this was also true in the “old” site: you can’t link to the results of a query, you can’t share what you find with your neighbors, everyone gets a different ’session.” so what we all end up doing is cutting&pasting the results. this frustrates the goal of every modern website: creating conversations


  29. - VanillaMan - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:45 am:

    Sorry, but it doesn’t appear that citizens that are visually impaired are able to assess this public information with their text readers.

    If you can organize your website so that the blind can understand and assess it, then you have a website that is a good design.

    This website doesn’t meet the legal test public information sites should meet, so it is a poor design overall.


  30. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:49 am:

    Just tried searching for several contributions.

    No problems at all. No errors. Using the latest Firefox.


  31. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:49 am:

    Dan S, you’re still not getting it. Try opening that link from scratch in a new browser. It won’t link to that page.


  32. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:50 am:

    What specific links are folks clicking to see errors?

    I clicked all over the site — including searching for campaign contribs and filings — and saw zero errors. Everything seems to be working fine.

    Using the latest non-Beta firefox.


  33. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:52 am:

    “Those reports are “snapshots” of what was filed at the time. If someone files an amendment, the amendment is tracked separately. … You would not see if it got amended or voided or re-filed or anything like that.”

    to clarify

    the IL SBOE website features:

    1. an archive of filings
    2. a searchable database of contributions & expenditures

    when you query contributions or expenditures, you are viewing the CUMULATIVE effect of all filings & amendments, that is, if a particular contribution was amended you would see only the most recent version. in other words, the most recent amended filing REPLACES all the detail from previous versions of that particular filing

    if you are interested in the amendment HISTORY of a committee, which is often quite enlightening, you have to drill down thru the committee pages to their filings, in other words, the searchable database does not help you with “history” data


  34. - DeepFriedOnAStick - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 10:57 am:

    I just ran a contributions by committee search which returned more than 200 contributions. Only the first 100 hits appear on the page, and the server won’t allow me to view the second 100.

    When I click “next” I get this lengthy error …

    Server Error in ‘/’ Application.
    Runtime Error
    Description: An application error occurred on the server. The current custom error settings for this application prevent the details of the application error from being viewed remotely (for security reasons). It could, however, be viewed by browsers running on the local server machine.

    Details: To enable the details of this specific error message to be viewable on remote machines, please create a tag within a “web.config” configuration file located in the root directory of the current web application. This tag should then have its “mode” attribute set to “Off”.

    Notes: The current error page you are seeing can be replaced by a custom error page by modifying the “defaultRedirect” attribute of the application’s configuration tag to point to a custom error page URL.


  35. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:06 am:

    “This website doesn’t meet the legal test public information sites should meet, so it is a poor design overall.”

    Some activists, the Open Government Working Group, are attempting to codify the criteria for government openness. This might be relevant:

    8 Open Government Data Principles

    http://wiki.opengovdata.org/index.php/OpenDataPrinciples


  36. - IlliniPundit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:17 am:

    “Pretty easy to see why they don’t link directly to reports like that.

    Those reports are “snapshots” of what was filed at the time. If someone files an amendment, the amendment is tracked separately.

    So if you bookmark or link directly to a report, you get that version of the report. You would not see if it got amended or voided or re-filed or anything like that.

    If you really want quick access to potentially out-of-date data, just print it off and tack it to your wall. Problem Solved. ”

    It’s not about permanent access to one report forever. It’s about being able to link to report for immediate discussion, or for emailing to someone for their information.

    If I post a link on my blog to a campaign disclosure report, for example, I don’t expect it to never be amended. I expect it to be a starting point for public discussions about campaign finance, with the opportunity for the public to access the records of their public officials.

    The SBE should have direct links to a Committee, which it does, and to a Committee’s list of reports, as it also does. But directly linking to reports should also be supported, and is something that Rich and I and others have been requesting for years.

    And these damn site errors are maddening. I just got another one trying to search for a committee. Using FireFox on Vista, if that matters.


  37. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:18 am:

    DeepFried –

    Those error messages are meaningless to end users. All that means is that an error occurred — but you’ll never know what it is.

    I agree with the comment above: someone isn’t at the top of the .NET programming game. It may also mean that the coding is incorrectly recognizing various browsers. I know .NET is supposed to be good at this, but I’ve had nothing but troubles (like these, I suspect) when all sorts of users visit with all sorts of browsers.

    And I agree: it *would* be nice if .gov sites like this simply make the site simple and accessible — and save all the eye candy for their intranet, internal sites. Nothing worse than having a government site *not work*.

    Of course, this is an Illinois government site, so there is perhaps some metaphoric significance in it not working.


  38. - John Bambenek - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:18 am:

    I’ve been getting the cookie error too, but more importantly, when I drill down from candidates to various reports, it would often give me the wrong reports. Most of the time it was the first report I checked no matter which one I picked after that, but occasionally it was reports for entirely different candidates. I got varying errors between Firefox and IE.


  39. - Sango Dem - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:21 am:

    I just searched for contributions by an individual. I’m a little skeptical of the results because I know the person is reported as making contributions for other committees in past elections that I don’t see listed here.

    Why can’t I sort the results of a contribution search? I’d like to look at everything I’m getting by date, or by the receiving committee. Other websites can do this.


  40. - Skeeter - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:26 am:

    In going to “next page” or “last page” of reports, I get the following. Note that this does not happen every time — it is random. A few times it worked, and a few I get the message.

    Server Error in ‘/’ Application.
    ——————————————————————————–

    Runtime Error
    Description: An application error occurred on the server. The current custom error settings for this application prevent the details of the application error from being viewed remotely (for security reasons). It could, however, be viewed by browsers running on the local server machine.

    Details: To enable the details of this specific error message to be viewable on remote machines, please create a tag within a “web.config” configuration file located in the root directory of the current web application. This tag should then have its “mode” attribute set to “Off”.


  41. - TabKill - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:27 am:

    So for everyone having problems of “getting the wrong report” or “wrong data”, are you using multiple tabs to view the site?

    Try using only 1 tab, and one tab only, and you’ll find 99.9% of your problems go away.

    Better yet, go to a site that sells things, put something in your shopping cart, open a new tab, at the same site, and add another item. Look at the shopping cart in the new tab…*gasp* both items!

    1 browser, 1 tab = 1 session
    1 browser, 80 tabs = 1 session (assuming all the tabs are going to the same website)

    This is … by design in the web browser! Firefox, IE, and Safari! No browser sets up a separate context for each tab, because the overheard in resources required would vastly outweigh the benefit.

    “Why didn’t I see this before?”

    –have you recently updated to Vista or IE7? Have you just started using tabs? That would be why. Even the “old site” would have the same multi-tab issue because Session, which exists on the *server* gets created once for your unique browser.

    A new tab does not equal a new unique browser. The browser engine doesn’t consider it a new instance, and thus doesn’t report it to the website as a new instance, so the server has no way of knowing you are using multiple tabs.

    For example

    I have to tabs open at elections site. I do a search in one, and pull up a report. I then do a search in my other tab, and pull up a different report. My session now points to the second reports data.

    It’s a bit of design problem, but it’s really the browsers problem, as the browser is what reports who it is to the server.

    You could also do this by opening two copies of IE, or FF, and doing the same steps above, because same browser + same computer = same “fingerprint”, and thus, same session.

    The short version:

    Try it without opening multiple tabs for a quick run through. See the difference in errors you experience.


  42. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:36 am:

    ===Try using only 1 tab, and one tab only, and you’ll find 99.9% of your problems go away.===

    Nope. That doesn’t work, either.

    And even if it did, what kind of a site blocks you from using more than one tab? That’s inexcusable.


  43. - Fan of the Game - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 11:48 am:

    I have never visited the site before, so I know little about how to use the site. However, I know the design forces the user to dig seriously for information–digging that could easily lead to looking at an empty hole and tons of frustration. It’s not intuitive at all.The site is so user UN-friendly as to be broken when it works perfectly (as it did for me using IE).

    Is this supposed to be transparency?


  44. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:05 pm:

    “This is … by design in the web browser!”

    oh, come on, now - any serious website - say I was comparing two products - I don’t expect to get Product A’s detail when I click on a link to Product B’s


  45. - Irked - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:05 pm:

    I haven’t gotten any error messages, but my biggest complaint is that the new site just plain blows. I couldn’t even find the link to the simplest things, like the voter registration form. Awful “upgrade”.


  46. - Pat collins - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:29 pm:

    Ok, I went there in “average guy” mode. From home page I went to ‘campaign disclosure”. Then to “reports filing” and clicked on “semi annual report”.

    There I see an explanation of what semi annual reports are, and a “reports filed” click. Ah, AG thinks.

    Then I see how many were filed. UGH. Well, AG clicks on one of the blue highlights. But of course, it’s not a link even though ALL OTHER links have the SAME blue highlights.

    AG goes away, and Pat takes over (since he knows how to use it from past use) and goes to “committee” at the top.

    he clicks on committe search, and starts to look for some of his fav people, the D300 committees.

    And can’t find them, since the ACTIVE only link is checked. Back up…. Finds CORE. Clicks through, to the end, then hits previous.

    And gets a “runtime error” using firefox 2.0.0.14.

    It happens EACH TIME.


  47. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:32 pm:

    ==And gets a “runtime error” using firefox 2.0.0.14. It happens EACH TIME. ===

    Fun, ain’t it?


  48. - Pat collins - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:35 pm:

    You know, to be REALLY useful, the committees should have to link to the OFFICE that their candidates are running for, or the PUBLIC entitiy (for school districts) that the proposition effects.

    Not to mention get a website that doesn’t ….


  49. - Squideshi - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:35 pm:

    Even the very first page fails markup validation with no less than 12 errors.

    All website sessions expire. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of HTTP–the protocol that is used to retrieve HTML documents–it is a so-called “stateless” protocol that has no idea if you’re still out there (until your browser makes another request) so the web server will give up on your session eventually. The problem here is that the State Board of Elections has that timeout value set way too low.

    The biggest problem with this website is its over reliance on Javascript. Whoever wrote the site must have thought they were being fancy; but all they’ve really done is, as Rich wrote, prevent basic browser functions (like the ability to open links in new windows) from being used.

    LAST, has anyone checked this website to verify that it complies with Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA)? I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t.


  50. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:37 pm:

    ===The biggest problem with this website is its over reliance on Javascript.===

    Yep. I stressed this goofy over-reliance on Javascript to the director while they were planning their redesign. All they did was make it worse.


  51. - Pat collins - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:38 pm:

    The same thing happens in IE 6.0.2900


  52. - Pat collins - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:40 pm:

    LAST, has anyone checked this website to verify that it complies with Illinois Information Technology Accessibility Act (IITAA)?

    So, one might file a lawsuit to make them comply? Maybe even a Federal Americans with dis. complaint?


  53. - Squideshi - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:40 pm:

    Verified. The site does NOT comply with IITAA. I needed look no further than the very first paragraph here in order to determine that. The Illinois Web Accessibility Standards (IWAS) are now part of IITAA now.


  54. - J. Bacon - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:50 pm:

    ISBE went many steps backwards with the redesign, both in terms of functionality and user friendliness. I had no problems with the old design, and if it ain’t broke, why break it?


  55. - J. Bacon - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 12:53 pm:

    Sorry, didn’t see request for specifics.

    I second Illini Pudit’s post: “Your session has expired or you need to enable cookies on your web browser settings.””

    I get this error repeatedly when using FireFox, particularly when trying to access vote totals from previous elections.


  56. Pingback Two Kings | Bloomington-Normal & Central Illinois Politics | Brandishing Swords of Truth. Blogging about Life, Liberty & The Pursuits of Us - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:04 pm:

    […] Rich Miller has given readers of the Capitol Fax Blog an assignment today … to critique the recent redesign of the Illinois State Board of Elections website. […]


  57. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:18 pm:

    now, now - let’s not blame javascript technology per se, but SBOE’s particular implementation leves much to be desired

    no one would be happy with a website that did not use any javascript these days


  58. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:20 pm:

    “The problem here is that the State Board of Elections has that timeout value set way too low.”

    session t/o went from hours to minutes w/ the redesign


  59. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:20 pm:

    ===no one would be happy with a website that did not use any javascript these days===

    I highly doubt that anyone wants to eliminate all javascript. It’s their goofy over-reliance on javascript that’s the real problem here. So, your admonishment makes no sense.


  60. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:23 pm:


    no one would be happy with a website that did not use any javascript these days

    LOL. I haven’t had a seizure in a while. Will you please link us to your Myspace page?


  61. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:24 pm:

    the accessibility complaint idea is intriguing, since the IL SBOE is a rare instance of a legal mandated in IL to post on the internet, their website is not discretionary for them, so they can’t simply shut down the site in the face of a accessibility law non-compliance complaint


  62. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:28 pm:

    Good point. Who can we get to file the suit? lol


  63. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:30 pm:

    “It’s their goofy over-reliance on javascript that’s the real problem here.”

    sure, the site is seriously messed up, and it uses javascript, but addressing some of the problems mention in this thread might require MORE, but BETTER javascript

    also note it is possible the programmers behind the IL SBOE site have little or no hands-on javascript expertise - what we experience as javascript-enabled in our browsers may be code generated by the .NET/ASP framework


  64. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:33 pm:

    not necessarily a suit, maybe start w/ a complaint, it may be enough to get them off the dime and review the design & usability of their site in a serious comprehensive way


  65. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:38 pm:

    what we experience as javascript-enabled in our browsers may be code generated by the .NET/ASP framework

    He’s right……

    I was trying to come up with the root cause of this trainwreck. Best I could come up with: ASP.


  66. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:42 pm:

    recognizing that a small team of 2-3 who recently finished a 1st course in web development using a modern framework could do a better job than the IL SBOE has managed, a quicker kill might be to go our own way

    IL SBOE distributes the data behind the website on CD-ROM

    I’m thinking sort of the arc of the story of the official Chicago Police CLEARMAP crime-tracker system, which was redesigned as chicagocrime.org and now chicago.everyblock.com

    Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is already approaching this with their “Sunshine” database; it is in many ways an enhanced version of the IL SBOE site


  67. - God's Country - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 1:46 pm:

    Hopefully, these aren’t the same programmers who are creating the Illinois Voter Registration System (IVRS).


  68. - Anon - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:09 pm:

    You folks are all awfully critical. Have any of you actually called the SBOE and spoke with someone about the particular problems you are experiencing? Constructive input would be more helpful at resloving the problems than site or programmer bashing.


  69. - White Rabbit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:22 pm:

    It’s terrible. I’ve searched multiple committees using Firefox, Safari and Camino. When you try to get itemized information for one committee you are as likely to get the itemized information for a committee you searched earlier as the one you are looking for.


  70. - Fox Mulder - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:24 pm:

    Calling General Holland….this FUBARed Website is a batch o’ findings waiting to be, well, found.

    The IITAA non-compliance is a nice starter.

    Statutory non-compliance for the failure of the site to work is #2.

    #3 is, well let’s just say the front door may be locked but the back door may be ajar. Incredible.

    I haven’t seen or read anywhere-was this mess an in-house design, CMS handiwork, or a private contractor?


  71. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:25 pm:

    === you are as likely to get the itemized information for a committee you searched earlier as the one you are looking for.===

    I get the same thing. I think the site has a problem with browser caches.


  72. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:27 pm:

    Anon, we had a QOTD last year that offered the ISBoE tips on what we all wanted. The director at the time liked the idea of us submitting ideas.

    So, yeah, many of us have, indeed, submitted constructive criticism. and It was completely ignored.


  73. - YNM - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:27 pm:

    Anon

    Not everyone here is participating in site or programmer bashing. Maybe someone from the SBOE will read the critiques here and site improvements will be made and everyone will be better off.

    Maybe someone from the SBOE is actually reading this now, or maybe posting as anon.


  74. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:27 pm:

    “Have any of you actually called the SBOE and spoke with someone about the particular problems you are experiencing? Constructive input would be more helpful … ”

    yes


  75. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:33 pm:

    Also, most of these complaints are, indeed constructive, even though they are posted by understandably frustrated users.

    This situation has become intolerable. The ISBoE needs to know how badly they’ve screwed up.

    And I’m not finished with this issue yet, either. Not by a long shot.


  76. - IlliniPundit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:34 pm:

    “You folks are all awfully critical. Have any of you actually called the SBOE and spoke with someone about the particular problems you are experiencing?”

    Yes.


  77. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:36 pm:

    ===“You folks are all awfully critical. Have any of you actually called the SBOE and spoke with someone about the particular problems you are experiencing?”====

    Yes.


  78. - Fox Mulder - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:40 pm:

    “You folks are all awfully critical. Have any of you actually called the SBOE and spoke with someone about the particular problems you are experiencing?”

    10-4.


  79. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:43 pm:

    No time to read the above, so I apologize for any redundancies.

    I tried this last Friday. On the old site, it took a couple of clicks to search by district. Maybe I was tired, but I could not find that option this time around.

    I also got an error message about cookies. However I do not allow cookies and am not clear why the Board of Elections finds it necessary to put one on my computer.


  80. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:53 pm:

    “I think the site has a problem with browser caches.”

    the site has cache-related problems, but I suspect the caching on the server side

    in firefox, if you suspect browser-side errors, you can exonerate the browser side by temporarily disabling browser caching, here’s how:

    http://kb.mozillazine.org/Browser.cache.check_doc_frequency

    you can ask firefox to always get a fresh copy of everything from the server

    IE has a similar option


  81. - Way South of the Border - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 2:57 pm:

    Specifically: You never know how “complex” searches(i.e., more than one criterion) are going to come out. If you search for contributions by donor to a specific candidate, and select “sort results by date — most recent first,” you get oldest contributions first, the exact opposite of what you asked for. If you knock out the candidate and just search by donor, by date, most recent first, it comes in the right order.


  82. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:03 pm:

    Sort Result By: backwards

    yeah, thanks, I’ll testify to that: sometimes to get the order you want you have to ask for the reverse


  83. - Dirt Guy - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:08 pm:

    Has anybody tried using Opera yet? It is a pretty good browser.


  84. - ASP .NET developer - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:11 pm:

    I’d love to be on that tech team, you think at check for $25,000 ought to do it?


  85. - daniel w. white - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:14 pm:

    In response to comments regarding problems with SBE website, we are aware of these issues and are working hard to resolve them with both with near term and long term solutions.
    As with any new system, there are isuues to be addressed and resolved.
    We welcome constructive comments and we appreciate the frustrations and problems users face. Our staff is woking to make some immediate changes that we think will greatly resolve many of these issues and we will continue to incorporate suggestions to make the website accessable and informative to the thousands of our users.
    Please continue to utilize and comment on our website as we continue to improve it.
    Thank You,
    Dan White
    Executive Director
    Illinois StateBoard of Elections


  86. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:20 pm:

    General things to point out:

    -Redundant, but what kind of web site isn’t tab friendly?

    -WHY _on earth_ do I have to move my mouse to click search? I want to hit enter.

    -What is with the blocks on the left? Why put them there if you’re going to truncate it with a bunch of ellipsis?

    1. Contributions Sea…
    2. Contributions List
    3. Candidate Disclos…
    4. Election Authorit…
    5. Committee Search
    Top Documents
    1. Register to vote
    2. Register to vote …
    3. Election and Regi…
    4. Candidates Guide …
    5. Ballots cast and …

    -The transparency on those left side blocks looks stupid and is highly distracting.

    -The search box in in the sub menu was aligned by a 9 year old.

    -Why do they need 2 search boxes to begin with?

    -I can’t even figure out what the searches return to begin with. I entered “election” into one of them and it returned a bunch of generic docs, the top result being a csv file.

    -Why aren’t there extracts in the searches to begin with?

    -Why does the search return .css, .xml, and .aspx files?


  87. - Willie Stark - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:21 pm:

    Rich,

    Do you know if this redesign was done internally or did someone get a contract to do it? Has ISBE offered any explanation for the ways in which the new site is an improvement over the old one? Like a detailed list? “We fixed X.” “Y is now easier to do.” Etc. Like many here, I feel that while the old one wasn’t great, it was much, much better than this one.


  88. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:22 pm:

    LOL. This just gets funnier and funnier. Why view source when you can just search for it?


  89. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:39 pm:

    ok, here’s another specific problem

    1. note the state or local committee number from your favorite committee page

    2. now search the database qualified by that committee number

    expect to see just contributions or expenditures from that committee? sorry, it doesn’t work - you get results from all committees


  90. - Jaded - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:43 pm:

    I still stand by my earlier comments, but I have been working on a project on the site for the past hour, and it was pretty smooth. Not sure if our complaining lit a fire under someone, or I just got lucky.


  91. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 3:47 pm:

    Understood, Jaded, but a site that only functions properly with the latest version of IE is completely unacceptable.


  92. - Squideshi - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:06 pm:

    Since we’re on the topic of this website, let me just point out that ISBE is wasting taxpayer money, and sacrificing security, if they’re using Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) to host this website, which I assume that they are because of the ASPX extensions on their pages. ISBE should be using a free and open source (FOSS) solution, such as PHP running on Apache, which would not only save significant cost but also help to improve overall site security.

    In regard to Internet Explorer, I agree with Rich that it’s totally unacceptable to design a site to function best with a specific browser. Just design sites according to proper web standards (W3C) and they will display properly in ANY standards compliant browser.


  93. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:06 pm:

    Dir. White,

    thanks for your post

    you wrote:

    ” … we are aware of these issues and are working hard to resolve them … ”

    Is the website a product of SBE staff, CMS, or a contractor?

    thanks again


  94. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:22 pm:

    +++++
    Since we’re on the topic of this website, let me just point out that ISBE is wasting taxpayer money, and sacrificing security, if they’re using Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) to host this website, which I assume that they are because of the ASPX extensions on their pages.
    +++++++++

    Nope — and I speak from experience here — most of the state webservers run on IIS. In fact, thanks to the IT consolidation (and the *very* strict web guidelines) most of the state runs the same HTML code on IIS.

    Good luck trying to convince any of the powerfreaks in the state IT hierarchy to try open source. (I tried — and failed miserably.)


  95. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:25 pm:

    BTW — and when I say “powerfreaks” in the IT hierarchy, I mean it. Try going to one of the every-other month IT meetings for top-tier IT folks at the JRTC. It’s crazy to listen to how sure those guys are about what they’re doing — and how how much of what they’re doing (or proposing) could be done for a whole lot cheaper if they’d look to open source products or move away from Microsoft.


  96. - Common Misconceptions - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:28 pm:

    To Squideshi

    1) It is possible to host ASPX via Mono on a LAMP implementation, so assuming IIS based just on this evidence is not correct.

    2) IIS is not sacrificing security. It is, however, as with all servers, paramount to keep the latest patches installed and configurations locked down. Consider the Blaster worm that did so much damage to Microsoft SQL Servers. The vulnerability that let blaster do its dirty work had been patched well in advance of the attack by MS. However, a large number of SysAdmins had not patched. Now go do a search for Oracle bugs that are rated critical and have been unfixed for 3+ years. Still wondering about MS Security?

    3) PHP has it’s own issues and security concerns. What you save in the cost of software with an open source solution you make up for in having to pay(more) for staff, training, and support.

    4) Sadly, even IE7 (and the IE8 beta) do not meet 100% of the W3C standards. So designing a site to be totally strict adherence to standards will not produce a site that looks good in all browsers, nor can a gov’t website simply say “oh all you millions that use IE, guess this won’t work for you, so sorry” as there are still computer users who have a right to access the information that may not themselves be savvy enough to install a different web browser


  97. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:31 pm:

    CM, I would appreciate it very much if you didn’t route your comments through Amsterdam. Your comment was put into the spam folder because you’re using an IP blocker.

    Also, none of what you wrote is any excuse for the horror show that is the SBE’s website.


  98. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:32 pm:

    Willie raises a great point. If it was done externally, I want to see the campaign contributions of the winning firm. I’ve led the redesign of many complex web sites and they clearly didn’t conduct any usability testing.

    Usability testing is kind of like focus groups. You sit different kinds of people down at computer terminals. Give them tasks. Watch how they do from behind the glass, track their keystrokes and see where they get stuck. Even without a formal usability lab, you could easily pull a handful of people together to accomplish much of the same thing.

    I tested in Opera and had the same problem. Since it and Firefox are both Mozilla based, that makes sense. The bigger problems I see are that the basic design approach is not remotely intuitive. All other problems (other than technical ones) start there.


  99. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:33 pm:


    1) It is possible to host ASPX via Mono on a LAMP implementation, so assuming IIS based just on this evidence is not correct.

    LOL. Because they just really really wanted to give the appearance of sucking.


  100. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:35 pm:

    Common Misconceptions:

    Seriously: Why would you go through all the trouble to set up a IIS stack on LAMP when you could ummm….just run IIS?


  101. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:35 pm:

    ” … *very* strict web guidelines … ”

    do these include the recent accessibility mandates?

    SBE doesn’t look or feel much like any other Official IL server, to me it looks like the work of a small staff outside the umbrella or someone’s nephew


  102. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:42 pm:

    “Usability testing is kind of like focus groups. You sit different kinds of people down at computer terminals.”

    good idea, but many of the specific problems noted in this thread could have been detected by best practice automated testing tools, w/o human beings, if quality were a concern


  103. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:43 pm:

    Exactly, and we brought up all of these problems well over a year ago right here. They knew what we wanted, and after promising to listen and work things through, they completely ignored us.


  104. - Macbeth - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:44 pm:

    +++
    SBE doesn’t look or feel much like any other Official IL server, to me it looks like the work of a small staff outside the umbrella or someone’s nephew
    ++++

    SBE may be exempt from agency guidelines. IIRC, the guidelines were specifically for agencies under the Governor.

    The web guidelines for the state consisted of “accessibility templates” that all agencies were required to implement. Unfortunately, the templates failed key accessibility requirements — and so were never fully W3C accessible in the first place.

    Fortunately, CMS dropped their mania — and I mean “mania” — about the templates about two or three years ago when IT consolidation hit full steam. But many of the state sites still have those templates.

    The steam ran out of the project — like so many of CMS’s pet projects — and it was pretty much forgotten. Although I’m sure the state IT honchos still keep occasional tabs on which agencies complied immediately and which complied eventually.

    To be fair, this agency template stuff started in the tail-end of Ryan’s tenure. But I always wondered why accessible websites were forced to be replaced with state-mandated non-acccessible websites. Go figure. (But if you know the IT folks at the top, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the outside consultants are happy.)


  105. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 4:56 pm:

    You know, I’ve been hearing the Common Misconceptions mentality for years.

    Businesses believed it and tried setting out web sites that, for the most, part had a crap look and a crap feel. Like the SBoE site. And then a lot of those sites turned their public stuff up to something infinitely more user friendly.

    I’m not opposed to standardization based on your environment, but when that standardization gets so horribly in the way of usability (as in the SBoE site) it becomes a problem.

    Additional log on the fire: Whine piece in Mac News World complains about government run sites not catering to Safari.

    Insert your thoughts.


  106. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 5:03 pm:

    ” … ISBE should be using a free and open source (FOSS) solution … ”

    I tend to agree, but don’t think it’s particularly useful for us to argue platform issues w.r.t. the SBE website, let’s focus on expressing as clearly as we can the functionality we need to explore and create conversations around the influence of campaign financing on public policy in IL


  107. - dan l - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 5:13 pm:


    I tend to agree, but don’t think it’s particularly useful for us to argue platform issues w.r.t. the SBE website, let’s focus on expressing as clearly as we can the functionality we need to explore and create conversations around the influence of campaign financing on public policy in IL

    It’s still funny to think of a guy setting up a LAMP only to run ASPx. It’s kind of like intentionally burning your food, imo.

    But you’re right. While I’d love to see government go to a cheap and effective FOSS solution, it’s probably not going to happen. M$ still rules that particular roost.

    A friend of mine just pointed out to me that it’s not exactly a huge secret that the contractors who get hired to do e-government work do frequently send out some fresh out of tech school noob and then bill the G at the max rate.

    Usually the result would be a trainwreck like the SBoE site.

    Or maybe that’s just a “common misconception”.


  108. - Wild Bill - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 5:43 pm:

    Not sure I understand the problem.
    I just popped in the name Myron Cherry….he of the big Trib snoozer on $25K donations to Blaggoof…..Turns Myron has doled out 46 donations including cash Pat Quinn and Forrest “the runner up” Claypool.
    When you type in Milan’s firm, Advanced Practical Solutions as the employer it turns out a good list
    Waz the prob?


  109. - Fox Mulder - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 6:08 pm:

    Wow, the spin from all these propeller heads is making Scully and me a little dizzy.

    We agree with BannedForLife’s post:

    “SBE doesn’t look or feel much like any other Official IL server, to me it looks like the work of a small staff outside the umbrella or someone’s nephew.”

    Say what you want about the State templates, at least they work. With the exception of Gen. Holland’s site and the consistently excellent Revenue site, several of the “free spirit” State Websites aren’t much better than the ISBoE in look or functionality.

    PS: Wild Bill, was it also a “snoozer” to you that Moron Cherry got a million dollar contract for work that he wasn’t qualified for and which didn’t require a lot of heavy legal analysis?


  110. - BannedForLife - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 6:27 pm:

    “When you type in Milan’s firm, Advanced Practical Solutions as the employer it turns out a good list
    Waz the prob?”

    no one is saying the SBE website is completely broke or useless

    here’s an exercise using Friends of Blago that should quickly illustrate one of the rough spots: look for contributions from other committees, and with the Blago list open, try and find the corresponding expenditures


  111. - Squideshi - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 7:04 pm:

    Using FOSS solutions isn’t only about saving money and improving security (even though both are true) it’s also about the fact that closed, secret, and proprietary software has no place in government. All that software is is a set of instructions–processes that an entity uses in order to accomplish its work; and when it comes to government, these processes should be completely transparent. Microsoft has been known to do things like hide spyware in their software to anonymously, and without the user’s knowledge or consent, report usage statistics back to corporate. How are we to know that there aren’t any bugs or backdoors? I guess we’re simply to trust Microsoft, right? Why not just outsource all administrative processes and make them secret? Nah. FOSS is definitely the way for government to go.


  112. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 7:11 pm:

    Havent really tried the new site, but one thing i WISH they had is, of course reports that can be linked to, but then even better would be RSS for committees. I know its way over their head to do this, but i know i would use an RSS tool to track a lot of committees, especially in the A-1 period. Even if they had static pages that you could link to, then at least we could do a html to rss mashup.


  113. - Sango Dem - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 7:33 pm:

    And just think. This is the same agency that guarantees complex voting machines are hack-proof and count our votes accurately. Lord help us!


  114. - IlliniPundit - Monday, Apr 28, 08 @ 8:02 pm:

    “Havent really tried the new site, but one thing i WISH they had is, of course reports that can be linked to, but then even better would be RSS for committees. I know its way over their head to do this, but i know i would use an RSS tool to track a lot of committees, especially in the A-1 period. Even if they had static pages that you could link to, then at least we could do a html to rss mashup.”
    That’s a great idea. RSS for candidate filing and challenges would be great, too.


  115. - David P. Graf - Tuesday, Apr 29, 08 @ 7:10 am:

    Having been involved in application development for well over a few decades, debacles like this usually point to situations where the development was rushed with insufficient time and effort for testing. Poor project management is a bane of of IT development. If I was in charge, I would go through the comments on this site and draw up a “fix” list and nail those problems. Then, I would release a test version to selected users like Rich Miller and let them pound on it to catch anything else going wrong with the site. You don’t want to get it wrong a second, third or fourth time. Otherwise, you lose all credibility.


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