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Keywords:

  • e-government;
  • state government;
  • state legislatures

Abstract

Scholars and observers interested in state politics research—whether single-state analyses, cross-state comparisons, or longitudinal analyses—have greatly benefited from the increasing availability of online legislative data. However, data collections and search capabilities are not comprehensive, nor are they similar across the states. This paper provides an overview of state online legislative resources and their capacity to facilitate Internet research. We examine the search engines, results interfaces, and archival records of states' websites in 2008 and 2010. In addition to substantial differences in site appearance, hierarchical structure, terminology, and navigation, we find wide variation along three main dimensions: (1) the number of years of searchable sessions; (2) the initial search filter fields; and (3) the information immediately available on the results pages. By creating an index based on these dimensions, we rank the states, discuss overall levels of capacity and access, and note changes over time. This analysis will facilitate scholarly research by assessing the availability and limitations of state online legislative resources, particularly for projects with comparative and longitudinal dimensions. It may also guide state legislative webmasters seeking to improve their websites through standardization and enhanced functionality. Last, the index may be useful as an independent variable for researchers seeking to measure the transparency of state legislatures.