Usability in Civic Life: Voting and Usability

Usability Problems Reported in the Media

Usability problems do happen, and they do affect elections. The following media reports of problems with elections are usability issues. They may be problems for voters, or for voting officials wrestling with new procedures or equipment.

This is a collection of reports from 2004, as an example of the types of problems seen in actual elections.


Diebold Touchscreen Alameda County, CA
Mass failure of voter-card encoders in the March 2 primary. 02-Mar-04
TriValley Herald (25-Mar-04)
Alameda County, CA
Diebold's voting system inexplicably gave thousands of Democratic votes in the Oct. 7 recall election to a Southern California socialist. 07-Oct-03
TriValley Herald (25-Mar-04)
Atlanta, GA
Some voters apparently filled out the wrong voter certification form or were handed the wrong computer card by poll workers and they received a ballot without presidential candidates as a result. 02-Mar-04
Palm Beach Post (03-Mar-04)
Fulton County, GA
Memory cards from 67 electronic voting machines were misplaced; ballots cast on those machines were left out of vote totals; 56 cards, containing 2,180 ballots, were located Thursday after the election. 05-Nov-02
Atlanta Journal Constitution
(8-Nov-02 reported in RISKS-L)
Los Angeles Registrar requested software modification because the electronic ballot layout did not match the sample ballot. She asked Diebold to reconfigure the software. They did. That action was contrary to state law because the reconfigured software was not certified. 02-Mar-04
LA City Beat
Senator Barbara Milkulski did not appear on the ballot in at least three counties. 02-Mar-04
San Diego County, CA
36 percent of the county's 1,611 polls were unable to open on time at 7 a.m. and an unknown number of voters were turned away; poll workers were unable to program the "smart cards" voters needed to use the touchscreen voting machine 02-Mar-04
North County Times (17-Mar-04)
Hart InterCivic
Orange County, CA
Democratic Assembly Primary
33 voters out of 16,655 in the 69th Assembly District received the wrong ballots, possibly affecting outcome; registrar certifies results anyway. 2-Mar-04
LA Times (30 Mar - requires registration)
Optical Scan
Scurry County, TX
Miscount. Two Republican commissioners won landslide victories; when officials recounted the ballots twice by hand, the wins went to their Democratic opponents instead. 5-Nov-02
Wired News (19-Mar-04)
Optical Scan
Bay County, FL
Democratic Primary
A programming error in the county's optical scanner system caused the machines to erroneously credit Gephardt with votes that had been cast for front-runner Sen. John Kerry. 10-Mar-04
Miami Herald (22-Mar-04 )
Miami Florida
Special Primary
The electronic machines recorded 137 blank votes; only 12 votes separated winner from loser. Jan-04
Financial Times (30-Apr-04)
Newport Mesa, CA
264 ballots were cast at Kaiser Elementary School in a precinct with 91 registered voters; poll volunteers brought up the wrong ballots on the electronic voting machine. 02-Mar-04
LA Times (17-Mar-04)
Ponchatoula, LA
Test votes were not cleared before commencement of elections. Candidate complained of lack of privacy, confusion regarding ballot review. Machine failures forced some voters to vote partially on one machine and then they had to move to another machine to finish balloting. 09-Mar-04
The Advocate (21-Mar-04)
West Palm Beach, FL
Democrats couldn't vote in their party's presidential primary because poll workers pushed the wrong buttons to activate their voting machine key cards. 09-Mar-04
The Star-Telegram (10-Mar-04)
Midwest Precinct Interface allowed voters to vote "straight" party ticket.. If voters then "double-voted" (selected their candidate a second time) the machine removed their vote. Others had a "next screen" button near the "cast ballot" button, which may have caused citizens to end voting before completing the ballot. Unknown
PC World
WINvote, Advanced Voting Solutions Fairfax County, VA
9 machines were removed from election premises because of failure to reboot and were then returned, put back in service. Voters casting ballots for one school board member had their "x" disappear unless they repeated the action up to 5 times; the candidate lost by 1% of the vote. 4-Nov-03
Washington Post (5-Nov-03); Wired News (19-Mar-04)


Updated: 30 April 2004




Usability Resources UPA Store UPA Chapters UPA Projects UPA Publications Conferences and Events Membership and Directories About UPA