Monday, August 11, 2008

Call to action: Volunteer to test ballots or be a poll worker

I am a member of the Usability Professionals' Association (UPA) Usability and Voting Project. We're gearing up now to help local elections officials test their ballots and other election materials for usability for the November election.

Ballots are being defined and designed now. Most have to be completed within a few weeks.

Want to help test ballots for usability? Step up! We'd love to have you. Questions? Write to us at

In the meantime, a few pointers about working on elections.

1. Usability and Voting is non-partisan
First, and most importantly, this is a non-partisan effort. Whatever our personal political beliefs, they stay separate from this work. You can read our ethics guidelines for usability and design professionals on

2. Sign up to be a poll worker
We know that it’s hard to find time to volunteer. But there is something that everyone in the US can do that takes just a day (or part of a day) of your time. Sign up to be a poll worker. With record turnout expected this November, new poll workers are needed more than ever to meet the target of 2 million poll workers set by the EAC. To find out how to be a poll worker, contact your local elections office or visit

3. Volunteer to help your local election officials with usability testing
One way to help ensure that ballots get a good usability test is to volunteer to run the test yourself. If you do:

  • Please use the LEO Usability Testing Kit. Every election official has received a printed copy of the report, and it would be useful especially in this first wave -- if we all used the materials they have already been introduced to, and spoke with one voice. Plus, your feedback will help improve the Kit.

  • Remember that election officials are in the middle of their busiest, highest pressure work period – final preparations for a highly volatile presidential election. This is a time to offer to help, not offer blame.

  • Don't be discouraged if they say "not this time" offer to contact them again in the spring for the off-season elections.

  • Before you make any recommendations, take a look at the EAC's Best Practices Guidelines for ballot designs as well as the recommendations in the Brennan Center report, Better Ballots. But, don't be surprised if you are told that it "can't be done". Not only do many voting systems have limitations that can get in the way, but elections are governed by state laws and regulations, as well as expectations from current practice. See and

4. Keep in touch
Let us know if you have any contacts with elections folks. We're trying to keep track of any usability work, so we can get a full picture of the impact of our efforts.

We'll be happy to talk to anyone who is interested, and support them in any way we can. Our goal is to make better design and usability part of every aspect of elections, integrated into the normal processes.

LEO Usability Testing Kit

Ethics guidelines for usability and design professionals working in elections

Information about being a poll worker

EAC Effective Polling Place Designs

EAC Election Management Guidelines

Brennan Center for Justice report Better Ballots

UPA’s Voting and Usability Project

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