Civic Design

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Poll Worker Training Blamed for Voting Snafus

Proof that plain language requirements apply especially to pollworker materials and training:

The Associated Press ran a story this week about the number of polling problems that can be attributed to poor poll worker training. The snafus include hiding electronic voting machines because the workers did not like them; handing out the pens used for touch screens to mark paper ballots and calling them "invisible ink pens." Poll workers have provided wrong information - especially about this year's spate of confusing primaries - and inadvertently disenfranchised voters.

The story notes the concerns of the League of Women Voters, whose researcher, Lloyd Leonard, notes that we are "running the most important part of our democracy on the backs of untrained, poorly paid volunteers." Some two million pollworkers form the largest one-day work force, according the Pew Center on the States. Most receive just a few hours of training.

The training itself can fall far short: some did not receive instruction about operating the voting system in the precinct they were working. Some did not have an opportunity to actually practice on the machine: election day was their first experience following training.

UPA's Voting and Usability Project members note that good instructional material doesn't replace good training. Too many pollworkers are put in situations where they aren't well prepared and where they don't have the information they need. Usability and technical support professionals both know how "creative" people can be in trying to solve problems. We can't change human nature, but we can understand the stresses and problems of running an election, and be prepared.

The constraints of running an election often mean that pollworkers will need to fall back upon their instruction manuals and other written materials. Election officials are encouraged to 1) review their instructional materials, 2) clarify them with the plainest language possible, and 3) test their instructions with poll workers using a process similar to the LEO usability testing process for ballots.

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