Using Extended and Enhanced Usability (EEU) to Provide Access to Mainstream Electronic Voting Machines

By Vanderheiden, Gregg C. | Information Technology and Disabilities, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Using Extended and Enhanced Usability (EEU) to Provide Access to Mainstream Electronic Voting Machines


Vanderheiden, Gregg C., Information Technology and Disabilities


INTRODUCTION

The 2000 election in the United States brought to light a number of problems and issues regarding our current voting system and technologies. Among them was widespread discarding of ballots from each election because of problems that people had in filling them out. (Alvarez, Ansolabehere, Antonsson and Bruck, 2001) In addition, modifications that were made in order to make some ballots readable and usable by older people appear to have caused the ballots to be confusing (Quesenbery 2001) and created a widespread belief that ballots differed from the voter's intention. These problems also resulted in renewed focus on the barriers that individuals with disabilities face in participating in the mainstream voting process. The passage of the "Help America Vote" Act (HAVA) and the ensuing standards for accessibility made accessibility issues prominent in the voting process for the first time. However a common approach to addressing it was to place a single accessible machine in each voting precinct. (US Dept of Justice, 2004). This approach has several problems:

1. First, if anything goes wrong with the single accessible voting machine, there is no opportunity for individuals who needed the special assistance to use any of the other machines in the location.

2. The voting technique for those with disabilities is often different enough from the voting technique used by everyone else that poll workers are likely to be ill prepared and often unable to correctly explain the proper method for using these special voting systems or modes.

3. Many individuals who require special accommodation, especially those who are older or who have hidden disabilities (e.g., learning disabilities), are unwilling to use the "disability machines," especially in front of their neighbors and friends who are among the poll workers.

4. Finally, care has to be taken to ensure that enough non-disabled voters in other categories use the accessible voting machine to ensure that the voting pattern of disabled voters is not obvious and separable from the voting process overall.

The magnitude of the problem with regard to elder voters and disability can be seen from Figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 shows disability as a function of age. As people age, the percentage of the population that experiences disabilities rises sharply. In fact, all voters will acquire disabilities if they live long enough. Figure 2 shows common types of disabilities by age group, and reflects a sharp increase in physical, visual, and hearing disabilities with age. Not reflected in these data is the effect of aging on cognition.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

INITIAL OBJECTIVES AND PROTOTYPE

The initial objective of our work was to create a single electronic voting machine interface that would accommodate all voters. Our early prototypes provided a touch screen interface with a very simple ballot layout, resembling paper ballots that voters may have been familiar with. This interface provided enhanced readability and the ability to correct. It also provided protection against overvoting and warnings for undervotes. For individuals who could not use the touch screen because of reach or because they could not see, tactile Braille marked buttons were available below the screen, allowing the voter to move through the races, as well as separate buttons to move up and down the choices in any race, to cast or cancel a vote, and to jump to the end to check a summary of their votes. Vanderheien, G.C. (2002).

In using the early prototypes with older voters, it was interesting to note that many would use the arrow keys rather than the touch screen to navigate and vote, or mixed the two methods. However, one of the primary findings was that the addition of the extra buttons to the interface increased the overall visual complexity to the degree that older voters found the machine intimidating. Even individuals who were able to discover and use the voting the system successfully commented on the fact that it looked complicated. …

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