Civic Design

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back in Session

While the Ballot Usability blog has been on vacation, a lot has happened:

  • I attended the Pacific Northwest Election Director’s Conference in Portland, OR. (June)
  • With a fabulous team, I submitted a proposal to the Pew Charitable Trusts for a project to train local elections officials how to usability test their ballots. (May)
  • I went to Stockholm on vacation, where I met people at the International Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance. (July)
  • The San Francisco Ballot Simplification Committee has started up again to write summaries of ballot measures for the November election. (July/August)

I’ll write about the second through fourth items later. Right now, I want to talk about the first.

Local elections workers are amazing

The program at the election directors’ conference in June was excellent. It covered topics ranging from security of voting machines to anticipated changes in the Help America Vote Act and the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines. There were some important sessions on Lessons Learned from the Washington state gubernatorial election in 2004 (it was recounted several times after the initial tally showed a difference between the two candidates of one vote) and the 2006 mid-term election in Sarasota County, Florida (where the very close congressional race is still being litigated).

One highlight of the conference for me was a session presented by Marcia Lausen, who talked about the work that Design for Democracy had done for the Elections Assistance Commission on the design of ballots and voter information. (I was an advisor to the project, so I was pleased that the audience was very receptive to what Marcia had to say.)

Meeting some of the 350 local elections officials from a dozen different states was enlightening. There were of course many war stories. To run an election is to take care of thousands of intersecting and overlapping details all under the public eye. But my main realization from talking with these excellent public servants is that they really care about how to run elections. They want to do the best job possible. But elections continue to get more complex, not simpler, as more races are close and voting systems draw contentious attention from sometimes competing interests of security activists, accessibility activists, and others. So, anything that makes it simpler to do any small part of an election well is good.

This is why people were so interested in what Marcia had to say. They wanted solutions to ballot design problems that they already knew about and had all been experimenting on to solve in their individual counties. They wanted templates and clip art that was portable to the system they were using to layout and print ballots. They just wanted to be able to do the right thing the right way, and now they had some new tools for doing that in the guidelines developed by Design for Democracy and published by the Elections Assistance Commission.

I hadn’t wanted to go. I was traveled out and conferenced out. But going was one of the best things I’ve done this year.

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