Usability in Civic Life: Voting and Usability

Project History

In November 2000, America was riveted as the presidential election hung in the balance while ballots in Florida and other states were counted and re-counted. We learned a lot about the technical difficulties of managing an election in a country as large as the USA.

Has this issue simply faded away? Far from it.

The Voting and Usability project has been there to make the case for usability, and to help find a better solution for designing usable and accessible ballots.

November 7, 2000

US Presidential Election introduces the world to butterfly ballots, hanging chads and the high cost of poor usability.

November 14, 2000

Palm Beach Ballot Design Problems Could Have Been Avoided, Say Usability Professionals - UPA issues press release on the usability issues in the US presidential election

January 23, 2001

From Ballots to Cockpits, Questions of Design - UPA President, Elizabeth Rozensweig, and Don Norman comment on design, usabilty and elections in the New York Times

June 2001

SIGCHI and UPA issue a letter to their members urging support of legislation to ensure the usability of voting systems. First version of the project web site launched.

July 2001

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

August 2001

Project update published in the Voice

November 2001

Georgia Tech Research Institute symposium on Internet Voting - Whitney Quesenbery is one of three usability experts.

March 2002

Project update published in the Voice

UPA 2002

Humanizing Voting Interfaces - Dr. Rebecca Mercuri presents an invited session at the conference.

October 2002

UPA becomes an affilate sponsor of Design for Democracy, a Chicago-based group working on better design for all aspects of the voting experience.

October 2002

FEC launches a prject to provide usability information about voting systems to augment system standards. Whitney Quesenbery is appointed to the Advisory Council. The brochures, published in December 2003 are available in PDF from the EAC

August 2003

UPA endorses VerifiedVoting resolution that "providing a voter-verifiable audit trail should be one of the essential requirements for certification of new voting systems."

August 2003

Louise Ferguson establishes an e-voting discussion list to help collect research and information about voting and usability and broaden the project to include the UK and other countries.

September 2003

UPA issues a press release Usability Professionalsí Association Supports Federal Court Decision in California Recall applauding the considerations of usability and voting effectiveness in the court decision and calling for a usability review of all systems.

September 2003

Project updates published in the Voice:

December 2003

NIST Symposium on Building Trust in and Confidence in Voting Systems. Whitney Quesenbery appears on the usability and accessibility panel and gives talk on Starting from People - the role of usability in creating better voting systems

February 2004

Project updates published in the Voice (by Josephine Scott and Louise Ferguson)

March 2004

Josephine Scott and Whitney Quesenbery join the IEEE P1583 Voting System Standards Task Group 3 on usability and accessibility.

April 2004

UPA issues an Action Alert to support calls for full funding under HAVA of NIST activities to support usability standards for voting systems.

June 2004

The project holds a workshop at the UPA 2004 Annual Conference.

Josephine Scott and Whitney Quesenbery show off the poster report from the workshop

June 2004

"Can Usability Save Democracy?" was the topic of a panel at the UPA 2004 Annual Conference. Whitney Quesenbery moderated the session, which included short presentations from several different perspectives.

June 2004

At the request of NIST/EAC, the UPA launches a list of design and usability consultants interested in working with local elections officials to improve ballot designs.

July 2004

Elections Assistance Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committe meets for first time, with Whitney Quesenbery representing UPA and usability

August 2004

Ballot Samples Collection project launched, led by Josephine Scott. This material was delivered to the NIST staff in April 2005 to assist with work on standards and ballot design guidance

August 2004

Project update in the UPA Voice:Voting and Usability Projects: How you can participate

October 2004

Louise Ferguson contributes "The 'X' Factor" to the UK Design Council report "Touching the State" (PDF 5MB - pp48-50)

May 2005

UPA joins forces with Design for Democracy to bring together government officials, information design, industrial design, usability and design research for a broad impact on elections.

May 2005

UPA Joins in Urging the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform  to Consider Design and Usability as Critical Factors in Elections (Press Release)

May 2005

Draft guidelines Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines, including a new section on usability and accessibility, delivered to the EAC by the TGDC.

May 2005

Louise Ferguson participates in LondonElects workshop. The goal for this workshop was high: improve the design of the ballot papers and instructions to the vote in the face of problems in the 2004 London elections

June 2005

Project update in the UPA Voice: UPA Joins Forces with Design for Democracy, London Elects, and updates on work at the EAC

August 2005

Dana Chisnell appointed to Ballot Simplification Committee. This committee writes the plain language version of ballot initiatives, and now includes a usability expert.

Dec 2005

EAC adopts the 2005 Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines, with expanded accessibility requirements and the first voting system usability requirements. They go into effect in January 2007.

April 2006

Ballot usability testing workshop held at Michigan State University Usability & Accessiblity Lab to create a usaiblity test kit for local election official (The LEO Usability Testing Kit) Participants include: Fred Conrad, Laurie Kantner, Sarah Swierenga, Mike Elledge, Josephine Scott, Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell

October 2006

The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Security, Accessibility, Usability, and Cost. A four-part report by the Brennan Center for Justice, is the final product of the first comprehensive, empirical analysis of electronic voting systems in the United States. Whitney Quesenbery co-authored the usability section, and contributed to the accessibility section.

March 2007

Dana Chisnell participates in "Facilitating Voting as People Age: Implications of Cognitive Impairment", sponsored by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging (and other groups). (Read Dana's account of the workshop)

The workshop issued recommendations, including:

  • Retention of the right to vote until and unless an individual is specifically determined to lack capacity to vote by a judge in a proceeding with due process protections
  • Requiring election officials to conduct mobile polling at long-term care facilities for those residents unable to travel to polling locations.
  • Movement toward the goal of well-tested universal design in voting technology so that all voters at a given polling place, including those with cognitive and intellectual impairments, can easily and accurately cast votes on the same type of system.
May 2007

The UPA Voting and Usability Project submits a proposal to the Pew Charitable Trust Make Voting Work Grants Program. Although “Helping Local Elections Officials Conduct Usability Testing of their Ballots” is ultimately not accepted, it raises awareness of the importance of usability testing ballots for each election. (Read about it at the Ballot Usability blog)

May 2007

Dana Chisnell conducts usability training for 70 county local election officals in Washington State.

August 2007

Dana Chisnell reappointed to the Ballot Simplification Committee

September 2007

New draft Voluntary Voting System Guidelines delivered to the EAC, including requirements for usability performance tests.

December 2007

Project update in the UPA Voice: New Guidelines Proposed for US Voting Systems



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