Civic Design

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pew wants to make voting work

I was hoping to write about the grant proposal that I was involved in making to the Pew Charitable Trusts. I was hoping to be able to say that we got the grant and that we were looking forward to work on the project. But Pew got many more proposals than they had expected and it’s taking somewhat longer for them to review the proposals than they had planned.

Well, okay. I’ll tell you about the project we had in mind, after all.

First, I have to give the credit to Nick Handy for coming up with the idea and nudging me to do something with it. Nick is the Director of Elections for the state of Washington.

Pew wants to Make Voting Work

The Pew Charitable Trusts – yes, the same ones that sponsor many PBS television programs – does great stuff, including supporting research in areas related to political science, sociology, and technology and many other areas.

Last spring Pew put out a call for grant proposals for a project they called Make Voting Work. They invited project ideas that looked at “new diagnostics and new proposals” for making voting and election administration work better.

So do we, by incorporating usability testing in the process

My group thinks that incorporating usability testing into the local ballot creation process (along with best practices on ballot design and ballot language) will reduce over votes and undervotes, minimize voter and election official errors, reduce the need for recounts, and improve the voting experience.

Can a team of local elections officials and usability practitioners build an easy-to-use training and implementation kit that local elections officials can and will use to conduct their own usability tests?

We think so because we’ve already started to do this by training local elections officials in Washington State to usability test their own ballots (see my previous blog entry, Ballot Usability & Accessibility: Progressive Washington State: Training local elections officials to usability test ballots). But we don’t know how well that’s working until we follow those tested ballots through elections.

The idea is to embed processes in the election cycle that support voter intent, not just make ballots usable by election administrators. We think that usability testing is the single most important missing step in preventing disasters due to ballot design and ballot language.

We requested a planning grant that links local elections officials and professional usability practitioners to help local elections officials learn how to usability testing as a standard part of the ballot creation process.

We’re quite a consortium

Michigan State University’s Usability and Accessibility Center would be the administrator of the grant, with Sarah Swierenga (its Director) as the principal investigator. I’d be the lead researcher. Ginny Redish has offered to be a senior advisor. Whitney Quesenbery, Josie Scott, and Susan Becker will also be on the team as researchers.

Our proposal includes additional financial support from the Usability Professionals’ Association. We would get in-kind support from state elections departments in Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Texas.

Keep your fingers crossed for us.

If Pew doesn’t fund it, know of anyone else who might be interested?


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