This project started with a problem and a crazy idea for a solution.
The problem is how to get ballots across the country usability tested for each election. We’re not talking about scientific, rigorous testing, but a way to find any problems with the ballot design or other election materials before the election.
The crazy idea is that local election officials can do the testing themselves.
To make it happen, we came up with a testing kit for people who have no specific training in usability or human factors engineering. We needed a test that doesn’t require any special equipment or a laboratory.
We created this kit with these goals in mind:
- Make it more likely the voter’s intention is carried out
- Make it easier for voters to use the ballot
- Identify problems in the design of the ballot that could lead to residual votes or drop-off
- Make it more likely that media coverage of an election is positive
Usability studies like this one provide opportunities to observe how easy or difficult it is for voters to use a ballot (either paper or electronic), to ask questions with measurable answers, and to confirm (or challenge) assumptions. In this test, you will observe individual people using a ballot to learn about how users go about using the ballot, and to learn why things work or don’t work for them.
We identified three times in the election cycle when it makes sense to run this “ballot check” usability test:
- When something about the voting situation has changed since the last election, such as new machines, a new ballot layout, new regulations or ordinances have been enacted.
- When you have a good idea of what is going to be on the ballot for the next election.
- When some significant event happens that may cause the overall layout of the ballot of page to change.
The test can be done in a central, public place, such as the town hall or city hall, or in a place similar to a regular polling place, following the same guidelines for layout, traffic management, amount of space, light, and so on. If your elections are all mail-in, simulate a kitchen or dining room or some other home-like setup, if possible.
Download the LEO usability test kit materials
These files were updated May 14, 2009.
Usability Testing Ballots: What you need to know
An introduction that acts like a planning guide for to how to use the LEO kit, including guidelines for testing at different stages in an election cycle, or when changes have been made to the voting system or ballot design.
Session Script: Ballot usability testing
The session script is a set of complete instructions and forms to use in conducting the ballot usability test. It provides direction for moderating individual usability testing sessions, complete with what to say, when
Session Materials: Forms for Participants
Consent and information forms for participants, and the demographic and post-session questionnaires, ready to print.
Sample materials from specific tests:
Sample Test Report: Ballot Usability Feedback
A template for writing a report on the usability test, to use to report results internally to elections departments or to the public
Training workshop handouts
Dana Chisnell developed this training course to introduce election officials to usability testing and to the LEO usability testing kit.
Ballot Design Task Force training slides (PDF – 881kb)
First version, used in Washington State (PDF – 397kb)
Poster, with portraits of people in the elections process and an overview of the LEO Kit – 33″ x 47″ (PDF – 88Kb)
The LEO usability testing kit was started in a workshop at the Michigan State University Usability and Accessibility Center. The participants were Dana Chisnell, Fred Conrad, Mike Elledge, Laurie Kantner, Whitney Quesenbery, Josephine Scott, and Sara Swierenga.