Usability in Civic Life: Voting and Usability

Other News Sources

Voting in America
USA Today's collection of articles on ballots, voting and elections. It includes an interactive map that allows you to see where different technologies are used.

Usability and the US Presidential Election
This page on the STC Usability SIG site includes a list of quotes from voters culled from news stories on or near election day, and links to commentary sites.

Please note that news stories may only be posted for a limited time, or require registration. If these links do not work, please try the home page of the publication and search on the headline or publication date.

The US 2000 Election and Voting Issues

At the time of the election, we heard from people who felt disenfranchised by the ballot itself -- voices like the voter who told the South Florida Sun Sentinel, "It was so hard to tell who and what you were voting for. I couldn't figure it out, and I have a doctorate." There were also those with disabilities, who find polling places a maze of hazards, and those who faced other challenges simply casting their vote.

Image of the butterfly ballotThese events were not triggered by corruption, but by a well-intentioned official without the usability guidelines she needed to do her job well. The morning after the election, Theresa LaPore, the designer of the infamous butterfly ballot said, "I was trying to make the ballot more readable for our elderly voters in Palm Beach County. I was trying to do a good thing."

The Sun Sentinel provided a demonstration of the butterfly ballot, attempting to recreate the viewing angle.

This page captures news items from the election, and links to responses by usability and HCI organizations.

The Usability/HCI Community Responds

Palm Beach Ballot Design Problems Could Have Been Avoided, Say Usability Professionals
UPA Press Release (11/14/2000)

USACM Letter on Electronic Voting
A letter to the House Science Committee expressing concerns about the premature implementation of fully electronic and Internet voting from the ACM US Public Policy Committee .(5/29/2001)

Florida Ballot Debacle Confirms Importance of Usability Concerns
Statement from the SIGCHI Conference on Universal Usability (11/10/2000)

Getting Your (Intended) Vote to Count
A summary from Human Factors International reviewing the human factors issues in voting. (May 2003 newsletter)

An Electoral Butterfly Effect by Sinclair, Mark, Moore, Lavis and Soldat. In Nature, Vol 408, pages 665-666. Available online with subscription at http://www.nature.com

Voting for Usability: A Backgrounder on the Issues - Whitney Quesenbery's talk at Tech*Comm2001


News Coverage

The Tabulator: Is Florida's 2000 Vote on the Butterfly Ballot Designer's Mind as November Approaches? You Can Count on It
Joel Achenbach (Washington Post, May 23 2004)

Study Finds National Voting Disparity
Voters in congressional districts with low incomes and high percentages of minorities were far more likely to see their ballots discarded in last year's presidential election than voters in wealthier districts with fewer minorities. But modern voting machines can significantly reduce the disparity, according to a national study of the 2000 elections. (Washington Post, 7/8/2001)

Congressional Subcommittee Passes Voting Technology Legislation
The House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards has become the first Congressional panel to take steps towards correcting the problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election. There is also a short summary of the bill's provisions (ANSI Press Release, 6/28/2001)

Fla. Vote Rife With Disparities, Study Says
Florida's conduct of the 2000 presidential election was marked by "injustice, ineptitude and inefficiency" that unfairly penalized minority voters, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has concluded in a report that criticizes top state officials -- particularly Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris -- for allowing disparate treatment of voters. (Washington Post, 6/5/2001)

Human Factor Was at Core Of Vote Fiasco
"For all the focus on faulty voting equipment and errant chads, a review of the election by The Washington Post shows that the trouble in Florida can be traced less to machines than to people...." (Washington Post, 6/1/2001)

Little Change Forecast for Election Process
An overview of why state and federal officials are finding no easy answer for problems of complex voting systems. (NY Times, 4/26/2001)

Holes in Punch-Card System Noted Long Ago
An overview of voting technology. "Votomatic ballots are now famously vulnerable to error - but cheap. 12 years after an expert urged that they be banned, they made history." (USA Today, 3/7/2001)

From Ballots to Cockpits, Questions of Design
UPA President, Elizabeth Rozensweig, and Don Norman comment on design, usabilty and elections. (New York Times, 1/23/2001)

Hail to the usability test by Jim Louderback
Things might have been different this weekend if ballots were treated like Web sites. "So next time your confused by a contraption, baffled by a ballot or irritated by the Internet, remember it's not your fault. Blame it on the designers and encourage them to seek help. If half the money spent on focus groups went instead to usability testing, the world would be a much less frustrating place. (USA Weekend, 1/21/2001)

Election Debacle Offers Valuable Lesson for IT
A News/Opinion column by Dan Gillmor on lessons learned from the election. "For enterprises, the cost of lousy user-interface design isn't as high as a constitutional crisis. But if efficiency and user satisfaction matter, it's high enough to care about" (Computerworld, 11/27/2000)

Post Election Analysis

"The Usability of Punched Ballots" - Bob Bailey, Human Factors International. Includes a calculation of the number of usablity test participants necessary to find the problems with the 'butterfly ballot' as well as an explanation of the math behind the calculation.

"A Vote for Buchanan is Vote for Gore?" Craig Fox, Duke University - A statistical analysis of the votes in Florida. This document also includes a review of nearly 40 other studies on the Web which comment on the election.www.wcrl.org

"The Butterfly Did It: The Aberrant Vote for Buchanan in Palm Beach County, Florida" - Wand, et al - . This page also provides links to documents prepared for the Palm Beach County Court by two of the authors.

"Usability Analysis of the Palm Beach Ballot Controversy" - Paul Resnick, University of Michigan School of Information

"Basis for Alternate Interpretations of the Palm Beach Ballot" - Kevin Fox . This author concluded that 'there are at least three clear cognitive paths by which voters in Palm Beach, Florida could have miscast their intended vote for Gore as a vote for Buchanan, or as a double vote for both Gore and Buchanan.'

"Ballot Usability in Florida" - Dan Bricklin's web log

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