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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lake County Auditor Websites: Edge to New Candidates

The latest Madville Times poll asked "Which Lake County Auditor candidate has the best website?" This is far from a comprehensive question about which candidate is best for the job. Nonetheless, the ability of the candidates to put together a good website reflects the attention they may give to a much-needed update of the county's online presence.

So what did you think?

23 (37%)
24 (38%)
16 (25%)

Thanks for voting! The relative newcomers to the office come out ahead of the veteran auditor's office employee. Do they have better sites?

From a Web design perspective, probably. Gust and Schlueter appear to use web hosting services that offer nice neat templates for their pages, with external style sheets to give every page a uniform look. Janke's appears to be homebrewed HTML.

Of course, that also means more load time. Gust's home page accesses 20 distinct URL's to load its style rules and images, Schlueter's loads 14. Janke's loads 2, both within her domain.

Basic as it is, Janke's website looks most like a campaign website. Open her page, and her name and photo leap out. Big font, big head shot. Slogan, election info links, e-mail to contact her, pow, right up front. Gust and Schlueter go for more understated headers and family pics in which neither woman is really a focal point. Schlueter's picture is actually smaller than the stock biz-handshake header image included in her template. Family pics are fine, but Bobbi includes hers on a separate "Family" subpage, where I would argue it belongs. If a campaign is a sales pitch, the focus on the front page needs to be the product you're selling, and that product is the person on the ballot. Gust has a good solo shot on her Contact page that would work better on the front page.

Style matters only to the extent it supports the substance. I don't care if a website for a candidate or for the county is fancy; I just want the information.

Gust and Schlueter both pile more information up front, on the home page. Schlueter does a little better here, asking for our vote right at the top, then going straight to Education and Experience. Gust runs the "About Me" text first... which says as much about hubby Brandon and her sons as it does about the person whose name will be on the ballot; I have to scroll down to get to the qualifications for the job.

Janke isn't far behind on this sales point: her Home page asks for the job; the Experience page is just a click away. Oddly, though, that Experience link is listed after her "Community Service" link. I have a community service section on my résumé—you likely do, too—but it comes at the end. Given that Janke's huge advantage is her 22 years of experience as DeputyAuditor, that link should be first. I'd say the same to Gust and Schlueter about their placement of Education above Experience; college is important, but not as important as relevant professional work.

All three candidates make the case that they'd be good at the job. Gust gets an edge for providing on the front page an outline of specific duties of the Auditor (good education—some people may not know what the auditor does). She also makes the only clear policy proposal on any of the candidate sites, to put more county information online.

Gust also tickles my citizen-participation vibe by asking on the Home page specifically for our thoughts on what could be done better in the Auditor's office and offering her e-mail address and phone number. Gust and Schlueter both provide full contact info on her Contact page. Gust offers Facebook and Twitter links; Schlueter offers a Facebook link. Janke offers her e-mail address on the front page.

However, don't think Janke doesn't know links. Janke gets kudos as the only candidate of the three to take advantage of external links to provide more information about the election. She links to the Auditor's office and Pierre's voter registration page.

One small secular quibble: Janke's first line on Community Service highlights her membership at Trinity Lutheran Church. Schlueter's About mentions her membership at Our Savior's Lutheran. I don't have a problem with Lutherans, but I appreciate the absence of any mention of religion on Gust's site.

I hate to sound wishy-washy, an honest case can be made for the quality of each website. Janke lacks current Web style, but she markets better up front and uses links to connect with outside information. Schlueter and Gust take advantage of templates for sharper design. Schlueter puts more relevant information up front, while Gust offers the best specific voting issue with the only explicit pitch for more county Web action.

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