Projects: Voting and Usability

UPA Action Alert: April 7, 2004


By failing to fund key initiatives, the US Congress has jeopardized the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – the law that was designed to improve the usability of US voting systems following the 2000 US presidential elections.

While the security of electronic voting has received attention, little is being said – or done – about the usability issues reported in elections around the US. Usability problems have the power to undermine an election. Among the best-known examples is the Florida 2000 presidential election, where some voters were confused because of the so-called “butterfly ballot” design.

Other major usability issues for both for voters and poll workers continue to be reported for both new and old systems:

  • A technical glitch prevented 36 percent of a large US city’s 1,611 polling places from opening on time. When the systems were booted, poll workers were confused by a screen they had not seen or been trained upon. An untold number of voters were not able to cast a ballot. (Mercury News, March 11, 2004)
  • Poll workers confused by a new electronic system in another city gave thousands of voters the wrong ballots. (Mercury News, March 11, 2004)
  • An activation error for a new voting machine system prevented many from voting in the Democratic primaries in another US city. (CNN, March 10, 2004)

HAVA was designed to address these problems. In addition to funding new voting systems, HAVA establishes the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as a national clearinghouse and resource for information and review of procedures for Federal elections. The law requires the EAC to ensure access for individuals with disabilities, including the blind and visually impaired; the same access as other voters. Unfortunately, this vital work is also being overwhelmed by the discussion of security issues.

HAVA also calls for the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to report on human factors research, including usability and human-computer/machine interaction that may be applied to voting products and system design to ensure usability and accuracy. A draft report was delivered to the EAC, but it has not yet been sent to Congress.

This report documents usability and accessibility issues in US voting systems. NIST has received no funding to continue their work.

Despite its importance for the future of US democracy, Congress has not provided funding for these vital aspects of voting system product design, development, and procurement.

The need is urgent! As a usability professional, you understand the importance of gathering data when it is available. Millions of voters will cast their ballot on one date this year: November 2. Funding must be in place well before that date.

Don’t let usability be ignored.


1. Call or write to your representatives in Congress. Let them know that you are usability professional, a member of UPA, and that you want to see usability research and standards funded.
You can find contact information at:

2. Spread the word to your colleagues, friends and neighbors.


A free and open democratic process depends on voter access to usable and well-designed voting systems. This access must be provided for every level of ability, and must also maintain the integrity and transparency that US voters take for granted. Election mandates will be severely weakened if usability problems cause voters to lose confidence in their ability to cast their vote and have it counted properly.
As members of the Usability Professionals’ Association, we use scientific method to inform better design. We support rigorous and politically neutral data gathering to assess the current state of usability in voting systems in the US.

The creation of strong, certifiable standards for usability and accessibility are the only way to ensure that the systems on which we vote will truly reflect the democratic process.

We ask for full funding for the National Institute of Science and Technology to assist the Election Assistance Commission in its mission to support voting usability and accessibility. They must be provided the funds now, while there is the opportunity to gather data from this year’s elections.

Please support full funding for NIST’s work under the HELP AMERICA VOTE ACT.

The UPA hosts an international discussion group on voting usability, and wants to hear about activities around the world. Information about how to join is on our web site:

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