Civic Design

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ohio Officals Test Ballots for Weather But Did They Test for Design Problems?

National Public Radio reports that Ohio election officials are braced for the worst because they have been asked to implement a new optical scan system in an impossibly short time frame (two months.) To prevent disaster, some local officials even left ballots out in the damp, tore them, spilled coffee on them, all in a effort to make sure that their equipment will handle all possible voting conditions.

In one of the most populous counties, Cuyahoga County, a locus of problems with touch screen systems in the past, officials were not able to deploy enough optical scan counters for every precinct. They will implement a complicated central count process that will involve halting precinct voting and transporting ballots to the central count location during the voting day, NPR reports.

All of this complexity has election officials working double overtime to make sure things work smoothly for the closely-watched Tuesday primary.

Unfortunately, we do not have evidence that officials have asked real people to test these ballots to make sure that a ballot design flaw does not cause them problems later. The article does not mention any attempt to make certain that the ballots do not have some hidden flaw like the unnecessary “extra box” on primary ballots in Los Angeles County that may be responsible for thousands of spoiled ballots. (See Ballots Not Counted in LA Primary Because "Extra Box" Not Marked, Feb. 8).

Election officials should be concerned. We know that voters will not have the benefit of feedback they would get when the counter rejects a ballot that has an error. Voters will not get a second chance to correct their mistakes. If there is a hidden problem -- one that might have been revealed and fixed by usability testing -- state and local election officials will be under fire once again.

We hope we are wrong; we welcome any news that election officials tested the ballot not just for accuracy and poor voting conditions, but for vote-ability. We also hope that voters understand the instructions, are able to vote the ballot properly, and have their vote counted with confidence.

Usability testing is one way to help ensure that confidence.

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