Civic Design

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Progressive Washington State: Training local elections officials to usability test ballots

When I met Nick Handy, director of elections for Washington State, at a reception in March 2007, I almost made him spill is drink.

“So, Dana, what do you do?”

“I study how people interact with products,” I said.

Nick seemed curious. “Give me an example.”

“Well, a lot of what I do is testing web sites for how usable they are. I observe people who are like the target audience trying to use the sites to see where they get stuck. But I’m also doing similar research about ballot design.”

Nick smacked his forehead with his free hand, turned to his friend John Lindback (director of elections for
Oregon), and said, “I can’t believe we’ve never thought of doing that before!”


Regional training for county elections officials

Nick was so excited that he returned to his hotel room to fire off an enthusiastic email to his staff about incorporating usability practices in the election cycle.

But first, could we include training about usability in the upcoming regional training?


Ballot design, usability, and accessibility: May 22 in Olympia and May 24 in Spokane

On each of two days in May 2007, about 70 county local elections officials gathered for regularly scheduled regional training. Libby Nieland (from the state department of elections) presented on ballot design first. The second half of the day was set aside for Patty Murphy and Kay Ramsey (also from the state DofE) to talk about accessibility in voting.

In between, in what I think is a first in the U.S. (maybe the world), I had the privilege of getting to spend two hours teaching a total of 140 local elections officials how to do usability testing. I focused on testing ballots, but the enthusiastic attendees quickly understood that they could use this tool for lots of other things, such as finding solutions to known issues they have with return envelopes or instructions on ballots.

It was a proud day for Washington State and me – and my fellow usability professionals. Get a copy of the training materials that I used. Send me feedback about them.

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