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August 2004 Contents

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Voting and Usability Projects:
How You can Participate

Josephine Scott

UPA Voting and Usability Project

The Usability Professionals’ Association Voting and Usability Project needs the help of UPA members for some of its many important initiatives:


The UPA Voting and Usability project works to create a better elections process by improving the usability of ballots and voting systems. You can also read more about their efforts to put the user at the center of voting system design by defining usability standards for voting systems for the US government and internationally at the project Web site.


Collecting Sample Ballots

The sample ballot initiative was defined at the UPA conference this June. The federal government has never kept records of ballot design, making the task of defining standards for better ballots more difficult.

"Sample ballots are the key for creating a design baseline," said initiative coordinator Josephine Scott. "We are asking every UPA member to send us a sample of their primary and general, or any election ballots when they become available." Spoiled ballots, actual voting ballots that an election official marks as unusable, are also welcome.

The group plans to gather data about each ballot, digitize them and make them available to the US Election Assistance Commission and anyone working in the field, to help understand the range of current ballot design and as a resource for future design standards. It is expected that this information will be available for researchers as well.

Send your ballot to:

UPA Ballot Initiative
PMB 174
47448 Pontiac Trail
Wixom, MI 48393


Ballots in any language, from any place are welcome. All types of samples, including those for electronic voting, are encouraged. Please include a note about the jurisdiction (for instance, city, township or county) and the election the ballot.

Serving as Consultants to Elections Officials

The Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) just released guidelines on Best Practices in Election Administration. They collected material from around the country to help elections officials with the 2004 elections. The complete document, includes links to many samples and other sites, making a great tool for anyone interested in learning about elections.

In the “Ten Election Management Tips”, the eighth is a recommendation to work with a usability consultant and has a link to a list of people interested in working with elections officials on ballot design and usability. The UPA created this list at the request of the EAC.

Use the online form to sign up on the Voting Consultants' Page

The reference to UPA in the Best Practices Guide reads:

8. Hire a Usability Consultant.
Creating more legible polling place signs, reader-friendly voter guides, clear voting instructions, easy-to-use touch screens, and user-friendly websites will make it easier for voters to participate, reduce voter errors and build good will on the part of the voting public. Usability consultants can help identify where such improvements can be made. Usability consultants are professionals who specialize in making forms and computer interfaces easier to use; they can make everything from the voter registration application to the ballot to the DRE touch screen unit more voter-friendly. To find a consultant, go to the website of the Usability Professional’s Association. You can also find guidance on ballot design in the following subsidiary pages of the UPA website: "Voting and Usability: Top ten things to read" and "Voting and Usability Project."


Serving as a Poll Worker

The Election Assistance Commission has put out a call for more poll workers to fill the many openings across the US. The EAC Web site includes links to all US state election directors. UPA president Whitney Quesenbery noted that this is an ideal service for a UPA member who wants to understand the election environment better.

"Working as an election poll worker will help UPA members understand the complexity of the election environment,” Quesenbery said. “Any attempt to promote usability requires an understanding how this puzzle fits together. Serving as a poll worker provides a great place to start.”

Most poll worker positions are paid, although the hours can be long. Training is required. To apply, contact your county or local clerk who administers elections for more information.

Helping Monitor Elections

The Verified Voting Foundation is organizing TechWatch, enlisting technology professionals in ensuring election integrity. Volunteers who sign up with TechWatch will have the opportunity to get trained and help out with observing and documenting:

  • Logic & Accuracy Testing of voting technology by election officials prior to Election Day
  • Poll Watching on Election Day (assigned to a single polling place or central election office)
  • Election Incidents on Election Day (on dispatch from an Election Incident Reporting system to polling places within a given county)

By applying technical expertise to mind the polls, TechWatch volunteers can chronicle election problems for follow-on litigation and policymaking in a way that most poll watchers cannot.  They are particularly interested in volunteers from Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Volunteer for TechWatch at http://www.verifiedvoting.org/techwatch/

Helping Create New Voting System Standards

President Quesenbery has been appointed to a committee that will assist the federal government in its effort to define voting system and ballot design standards. The Technical Guidelines Development Committee will serve as advisors to the EAC, which has been mandated by Congress to develop these standards.

"I’m pleased to see usability included in these guidelines," Quesenbery said. “Too often, a focus on technology and security eclipses the importance of creating voting systems that people can use easily.”

Quesenbery and Josephine Scott are also working on the proposed IEEE Voting System Standards section on usability and accessibility. This standard is about to go out for another round of comments.

Maintaining an International Focus

Project leader Louise Ferguson manages an e-voting Yahoo! Group with an international focus, following voting system technology and ballot design efforts throughout the world. She is currently liaising with the UK Design Council and the UK Electoral Commission to promote usable design in future systems.

Conducting a Multidisciplinary Workshop

At the UPA2004 conference, the Voting and Usability Project sponsored a multi-disciplinary workshop. Attendees included representatives from Design for Democracy, social researchers, voting system designers and usability experts. Participants looked at social, civic and methodology issues in ensuring the usability of voting systems, from ballot design to the debate surrounding potential benefits and abuses of electronic voting.

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