Voter-education initiatives are likely to expand by '06

NEW YORK: A pair of voter-education campaigns executed by Burson-Marsteller in the run-up to the election may have been the first in a series of new projects available to public affairs firms over the next two years.

NEW YORK: A pair of voter-education campaigns executed by Burson-Marsteller in the run-up to the election may have been the first in a series of new projects available to public affairs firms over the next two years.

Both projects were spurred by the passage of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) - whose main provisions will impact how all states conduct elections by 2006.

Some changes, however, took effect this year, and Burson approached election officials in South Carolina and Ohio months before the election about public-education efforts to smooth the process.

In Ohio, Burson ran a campaign telling residents what to expect when they arrived at the polling place. Confusion earlier in the cycle had left some unsure whether they'd be casting paper of electronic ballots, said Mary Crawford, a director in the public affairs practice.

"Bottom line, they weren't going to become another Florida and were going to make sure the electorate was really comfortable and familiar" with the process, Crawford said, referring to election officials in Ohio.

In South Carolina, where new equipment was being inaugurated, Burson ran a grassroots effort to familiarize voters with the machines, providing hands-on demonstrations months before the polls opened.

"We carted the equipment around from community to community, then built PR campaigns to make sure these opportunities were visible," said Crawford.

Other firms report running voter-education campaigns this cycle, as well, including Hill & Knowlton, which helped educate voters in a number of Florida counties - though those efforts weren't directly related to HAVA.

Under the new legislation, all states are required to modernize their voting equipment by 2006. Although Burson execs said they initiated conversations with election officials this year, they were confident that states would soon seek firms to run similar efforts in the next two years.

"The fat lady hasn't sung on voter reform," said Crawford.

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