Civic Design

Saturday, March 15, 2008

American Idol or Vote by Mail for Florida?

Elections seem to be under attack from both sides: the concerns about being able to prevent computer tampering run squarely up against our desires to have everything be fast, easy and high-tech.

A few days ago, a friend asked why we couldn’t run elections like American Idol. After all, the television show collects votes from some 500 million viewers, compared to a mere 122 million votes in the 2004 presidential elections. Do a quick web search, and you’ll find many blog posts wondering the same thing. Of course American Idol allows you to “vote early and vote often” – something frowned-on in political elections.

We may not be ready for American Idol-style phone voting, but Florida is wondering why it can’t use all-postal balloting to re-run its Democratic primary. After all, Oregon and Washington State have been doing this for years and seem to have a system that works well. It eliminates much of the cost, and they might avoid the problems with new systems that have plagued Florida in recent years.

Is it really that easy? An article in the New York Times, “For Florida, Warnings of Complexity of Mail-In Voting” looks at some of the issues. Nick Handy, director of elections for Washington and John Lindback, director of elections for Oregon both have a long list of questions about whether an all-postal election could be planned in “Internet time”, pointing out that their procedures have been refined over the course of 20 years.

We put a lot of store in the opinions of these two election directors. John Lindback worked with AIGA’s Design for Democracy project to redesign the ballots, election information, and the materials used by election workers as they process the ballots. Nick Handy brought UPA’s Dana Chisnell to Washington to train local election officials to usability test ballots. We wish more election officials would take the time to include good design and usability testing in their plans. Elections are complicated enough without worrying about whether voters can use the ballot correctly.

For Florida, Warnings of Complexity of Mail-In Voting
By William Yardley, Published March 15, 2008

Design for Democracy

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


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