Well, in case you hadn't noticed, it's election season. That means lots of conversations about voter turnout, ballots, long lines, and voter IDs. The first time I paid much
professional attention to the voting experience was in 2000 with the drama in Florida about butterfly ballots and hanging chads. Four years later, I almost got paratrooped down to Florida on election day to be an expert witness on the ballot designs and overall voter experience.
In 2008, I decided to explore things from the inside - I became an election official. I did it largely out of a sense of civic duty but also to see how things "really w
orked." The first election that I worked was the 2008 Presidential election. Polls opened at 7:00am. At 7:42am, a voter got confused about how to use the vote tabulator machine, jammed their ballot in it, and broke the machine. Within a few minutes, the Chief Inspector was scrambling and had to leave. I was handed the keys to everything and deputized as The Person In Charge. Gulp.
Fast forward to 2016 and we're back for another election season. I worked the Spring primaries about a month ago. We have new Voter ID laws that are in place now, new vote tabulator machines, and my polling location was in a new building (due to construction at the normal place). The UX-er in me couldn't help but think about how all of that affected the voters' experience:
- We know beliefs and emotions play a huge roll in decision making. Does having an election in a church influence voters' behavior? I bet it does.
- One of the main goals of the election process is to establish trust in the system and in the results. Inconsistencies in the rules erode that trust. If you can register to vote (and then walk right up and vote) without showing a photo ID but you need to show a photo ID to vote any other time, that seems like a problem.
- How hard is it to design a vote tabulator machine that is easy to use? What's the one thing people need to do when they walk up to the machine? Stick the ballot in! What's the one thing that should be most obvious? The place to stick the ballot! This is the machine we use in our voting location. Quick, can you tell where you put the ballot? We had to invent signs, arrows, and even assign an election official to stand next to the machine all day and show people what to do. Grrr.
- The little things matter. The angle of the tables, the height of the signs, the puddle of water on the floor... all those little things affect what people perceive, where they go, what they do. While half of my time working on election day was about following the rules, the other half was about mopping the floor so nobody fell, adjusting the table so that it was obvious which line to stand in, and putting the right signs in the right places to help people know what to do and when.
We've got three more election days in 2016 here where I live. Let's hope each is better than the last.