Usability of electronic poll books

An analysis of what makes an electronic poll book usable for poll workers, election staff, and voters.

On an Election Day, poll workers check in hundreds of voters. There will be voters who are easy to handle and others with a variety of special requirements for ID, signatures, updates, or who need to be redirected to the correct location. As the front line workers of the election department, their job is to ensure that that every person is handled correctly and that the line keeps moving.

A well-designed e-pollbook can support poll workers better than one with a poor interface or awkward navigation. But what makes an e-pollbook and effective tool in the polling place?

This project is a collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  to explore guidance for usability and accessibility of e-pollbooks. The project report is in three parts:

Developing a usability test

One of the goals of the project was to develop a method for testing electronic pollbooks for usability. Our preliminary plan included scenarios, and a schedule for running either a traditional one-session-at-a-time usability test, or for running several parallel sessions to get more input in a shorter time.

We got some great comments on the first draft, but we wanted to try it out to see how it worked in practice. So we ran a pilot to “test the test.”

The pilot reminded us of how important it is to see real people (in this case a few local poll workers) doing real tasks (using the scenarios to check in mock voters) on real products.

We used what we learned in three intense days to update the test plan and make it procedurally easier. And, we created a checklist of specific usability issues. We hope the checklist will be useful for any jurisdiction purchasing a new e-pollbook, or looking for ways to streamline poll worker training on an existing system.

Workshop

A workshop at the IACREOT conference on June 27 with election officials and people designing electronic poll books, looked at the usability issues and benefits of electronic poll books, especially focused on how they are used in the polling place. We shared progress on a procedure to test the usability of electronic poll books for poll workers as part of a procurement process or as an element in a state certification program.