Research

We conducted interviews with a range of individuals involved in the voting process:

  • First-time and experienced voters
  • Volunteers who set-up and run the voting machines
  • Judges who monitor the polls on election day
  • Analysts who study elections
"There is less incentive to vote in mid-term elections. Presidential elections are a big deal." - First-Time Voter
"The voter slows the voting down." - Election Volunteer
"Need to do all that we can to extend the suffrage." - Election Judge
"Elections are a temporary bureaucracy." - Political Analyst

The interviews revealed several patterns across the voting experience:

  • Lack of information integration for voters
    • Insufficient knowledge of all offices and issues that would be on the ballot prior to voting
    • Unknown waiting times until they arrived at the polls
    • Inability to easily find results to compare against their own selections, which they could not always accurately recall
  • Lack of usability and support for volunteers
    • Low quality training materials
    • Cumbersome voting machines
    • Inadequate tools to communicate wait time information to voters

In addition to these interviews, we were fortunate to have a General Primary & Special Election in Pennsylvania in May 2014, allowing us to conduct first-hand observation at polling sites.

Not only did the election allow us to validate some of the issues identified by the interviews, but it also gave us direct access to observe and use election materials, voting machines, and the voting workflow.

Inside the voting booth, instructions may be above eye-height and overlooked. Inside the voting booth, instructions may be above eye-height and overlooked.
Sample ballot posted at polling place for reference – this is often the first time a voter sees all of the candidates and issues in one place. Sample ballot posted at polling place for reference – this is often the first time a voter sees all of the candidates and issues in one place.
Two mechanical voting machines are available, regardless of voter turnout. Two mechanical voting machines are available, regardless of voter turnout.

Many of the findings from our interviews and contextual observations mapped to the recommendations within the American Voting Experience – Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration:

  • Voters should not need to wait more than half an hour to vote
  • Ballots should be well-designed and simple to understand
  • Well-trained and informed poll workers should supply useful guidance, answer questions, and resolve issues as they arise.

Of course, we’re not the first to try to tackle some of these challenges, so we reviewed some existing resources that support elections. These ranged from government web sites, to third-party sites and even a KickStarter concept. Representative examples are summarized below.

Government Websites

Many state and local government agencies provide basic information and tools to voters and volunteers on topics such as registration, polling location, and information on current political representatives.

votesPA

In Pennsylvania, the state provides votesPA.com to inform votes on voting and elections, registration, and election complaints. It features a self-selection tool on the homepage to efficiently guide users to relevant content and tools.

votesPA.com Role-based selection on homepage of votesPA.com filters content based on expected needs and tasks.

NYC Votes

This web-based app, provided for registered New York voters by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, includes a poll site finder, registration guidance, and an address-specific ballot view.

NYC Votes NYC Votes NYC Votes
NYC Votes web app provides localized ballot information to voters.

Third-Party Sites

In addition to government sites, many third-party organizations provide objective information to support voters and election administrators:

Committee of Seventy

In Philadelphia, the Committee of Seventy is a non-partisan organization that provides information on upcoming elections, as well as registration information, ID requirements, and current representatives.

Committee of Seventy Non-partisan sites like the Committee of Seventy, are designed to support voters.

Voting Technology Project - Election Toolkit

This set of tools was created in the wake of the 2000 election to support administrators in planning and conducting elections. It provides calculators for queuing theory and worker, machine, and line optimization, as well as toolkits to implement online registration.

Election Toolkit The Election Toolkit provides tools and data to help administrators run efficient elections.

Conceptual Designs

Two conceptual projects stood out to us in particular, as they attempted to address a significant range of issues within the election process:

America Elect

This is a comprehensive, research-based examination and design proposal for improving the current electoral system. Outputs include an improved set of paper election materials and a standardized ballot, focusing on clarity and simplicity.

America Elect Detail of proposed paper ballot redesign from America Elect project

The Voting App

This conceptual app (and failed KickStarter effort) provides a consolidated set of tools to support voters. It proposes several of the features our project team had determined would valuable for voters, including sample ballots, election calendars, and polling place information.

The Voting App Views of the proposed The Voting App.