The year in review: 2015 and beyond

2015 has been an exciting and productive year. We’ve deepened our work on voter information and election design. And looked at how to design the elections of the future, so they work for all voters.

New technology in the polling place

You can’t stop progress: as new technology works its way into daily life, it shows up in elections, too. One of the hottest new election systems is electronic poll books. They make vote centers possible, reduce the time to update voter history after an election, and can help keep lines moving in polling places.

We wanted to know what made them usable, because a system that’s hard to use can’t live up to its promises.

Like so many things in elections, there’s a lot of complexity hidden behind a simple task. We started by looking at most of the e-pollbooks on the market and talking to dozens of election officials. But we really wanted to get a sense of what makes these systems easier or harder to use, and for that there’s nothing like watching real people try to complete real election activities.

We designed a usability test and ran a pilot with two different systems. Wow, did we learn a lot. About what works well. And, about the things that can trip or confuse even experienced poll workers.

Whether you are buying or building an electronic pollbook, design details can make a big difference. You want to look at the flow of the basic task of checking in voters, and how it helps poll workers deal with all the other possibilities. To help you do this, we’ve created:

Forms,  forms, and more forms

Elections are full of forms. So much so that our final Field Guide (due out any-day-now!) looks at how to make forms that help voters take action, from voter registration forms to vote-by-mail envelopes.

The Field Guides played a role in helping Ohio update their provisional ballot envelope forms and the Grand County, Utah Treasurer make a tax bill easier to read.

We were honored to work with Pennsylvania as it became one of the 31 states that now offer online or electronic registration. Working with our amazing partners at Oxide Design, we redesigned the paper form and helped the equally amazing Pennsylvania team with the online form featuring simpler, clearer language.

Election information voters can really use

We continue be obsessed with creating information for voters that answers their questions and helps them participate in elections. Too often, voters are given great information, but at the wrong time or in ways that are hard to read. No wonder so many of them say that voting is hard. We have to fix that, too.

After wrapping up a year of research in California on how voters get information, we were pleased that this work extended our earlier research (summarized in the Field Guide on designing vote education booklets and flyers).

With the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund we created a manual of best practices for official voter information guides and ran a series of webinars for election officials.

And then, an amazing thing happened:  California passed a law informed by our research.

The League’s Jennifer Pae testified at a hearing in Sacramento and told the story about how important plain language is. And the legislators listened. State Senator Tony Menendez and Secretary of State Alex Padilla took up the cause clear, understandable election information. The first challenge is creating a voter friendly version of the Voter Bill of Rights. We have been working with the office of the Secretary of State on the community review and look forward to the new voter-friendly version early this year.

The path to usability and accessibility in future elections

With new Election Assistance Commissioners in place, it was time to think about the next generation elections and the voting system standards to support them. Working in collaboration with NIST’s human factors team, we developed a roadmap for usability and accessibility of future elections, through workshops with industry experts,  The result was 22 objectives from the design process to improving the standards and certification testing.

We’re continuing to work with them on projects like principles for secure, accessible, and usable remote ballot marking systems and how to update the human factors requirements in the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines.

Sharing – what we’ve been talking about

Ready for 2016

We’re working with our colleagues at the Center for Technology and Civic Life on a Civic Engagement Toolkit collecting free and low cost tools that should be part of any election administration.

A collaboration with Democracy Works and e.thePeople will let us do research on how to use the TurboVoter reminders to connect young voters to election information, and maybe boost participation in local elections.

With continuing support from the Future of California Elections (FOCE), we are working closely with Shasta, Santa Cruz, and Orange counties to revise their voter guides. Look for a fresh new look for the June Primary Election in many other counties as well.