Usability at the Polls

dog voting

When many voters of all ages go out to vote today, what will they find? For many voters, especially non-technically savvy senior citizens, the situation might be a bit scary, and their local poll workers will likely be of little help. Ergonomics and usability professionals are desparately needed to help make voting as user friendly as possible…for everyone. Technology may solve some voting problems, but it creates others in their place.

Chances are, many polling stations on November 7 won’t be happy places. From the problems experienced in the primary elections around the country, confusion about the new rules and voting equipment for the United States general election is likely to be the main cause of the discontent. It recently became evident that voters won’t be the only perplexed people at the polls.

A report in The Washington Post just days before the event adds election judges, also known as poll workers, to the list of potentially confused people. The article points out that in the aftermath of glitches that marred primaries in Maryland and other states, a lot of attention has focused on electronic voting systems – why they malfunctioned and how susceptible they are to attack – but that an equal or bigger worry might be how well poll workers handle the problems as they arise.

The article suggests many won’t be equal to the task because the new more automated systems and rules are as confusing to them as they are to voters.

The judges have been recruited en masse locally and across the country, according to The Post, and professionals with appropriate skills have been hired to train them. One of the hastily recruited trainers, who fits the older-age profile of the average voter nationwide, found the jargon of the training session offered by Maryland’s Montgomery County Board of Elections incomprehensible and the technology overwhelming. The article points out that the technology changes can be daunting for some of the voters who didn’t grow up using computers. Even turning on the machines appears to be challenging.

A significant factor that was overlooked in the election reforms following the debacle of the 2000 general election, with its hanging chads and dimpled ballots, was the lead time needed for learning the new systems and rules. The trainer interviewed in The Post article found the single three-hour class he was given inadequate for absorbing everything. The article described poll workers as ordinary people who work long hours for little pay and perform admirably under trying conditions. Because of the reforms since 2000 and the wide shift from paper ballots to more automated systems, poll workers have had to relearn their jobs.

Full article on Ergoweb

voting cartoon foxtrot
Cartoon and another blog post on electronic voting from ThisIsBroken

Chris Adams on ergonomic voting at About:Ergonomics