Dana Chisnell and the Voter’s “Hero Journey”


[Image courtesy of civicdesigning]

Last week, my friend and colleague Dana Chisnell testified before the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Her focus, as always, is a voter’s-eye view of the election process informed by a series of studies about the experience involved with different steps of the election process.

The centerpiece of her testimony (recreated in this video with slides and narration) is the graphic above, which depicts a “journey map” of a voter’s route through the voting process.

Dana’s written testimony explains it in greater detail. First, she uses data from a study of election websites to see how well voters’ questions get answered:

[L]et’s follow the voter through the journey based on our data and observations.

Across our journey map at intervals are the questions voters asked. These represent
activities — something a voter might do to get their questions answered. So, let’s see
how well the sites did.

The county election websites helped 60% of our participants who asked the question
find out what was going to be on their ballot. 72% found information about voting absentee. 60% of the participants who asked whether they could vote early found their answers on county web sites. County websites helped 65% find where their polling place was. However, only 35% of those who asked learned who their current representatives were from their county websites. 69% got an answer to whether they needed a voter ID, and we were delighted to see that 80% of participants who asked questions about registering to vote or about their registration status did find answers to those questions on their county’s site.

But in preparing to vote, one other question came up for many of our participants: How
do I actually vote? They wanted to know what to expect at the polling place, and what
the voting system would actually be like. Tragically, this question went unanswered for
all but about 13% of the participants who wanted to find the answer to this question on
their county website.

If we look at the journey through answering these questions, it’s easy to see that, first,
the best we got was 80% success on one question. There are a couple of sizable dips,
too. Ideally, you’d want everyone to find their answers.

The map continues with some observational data about the polling place experience:

I’ll show you a composite visualization that depicts one of the typical voter paths.

The voter gets to the polling place. If they’re driving, there’s parking to find, which can
be tough in some urban places. Signage probably helps them find their way to the right
entrance, but unless there’s a queue, finding the exact location of polling can be

Arriving in the room where polling is happening, the voter has to figure out where to go
first. If there are multiple precincts or election districts housed in the same polling
place, they often don’t know which is theirs, go to the wrong one, and get redirected.
Eventually, they get checked in, get a ballot, and then head to a voting booth… where
we encounter the death of a thousand cuts that is the ballot. For many voters, this is the
first time they see what is on the ballot. The voter has to figure out how to mark the
ballot, and choose which contests to vote in.

There’s pressure to complete the entire ballot, but some voters don’t feel comfortable
voting in contests where they don’t know the issues or candidates. They wonder if their
votes will count if they don’t vote the entire ballot. Having many different kinds of
contests on the ballot can also slow voters down. If there are contests on the second side of a printed ballot, voters may forget or not realize that they need to vote on those,
too. Finally, they finish marking the ballot.

The voter casts the ballot. If there’s a tabulator, they may get a message from it if
they’ve overvoted or undervoted, and will have some decisions to make about what to
do. In some cases, they may get the ballot back to spoil, replace, and vote again.
When completely done casting, the voter gets a sticker, and leaves.

As the graphic suggests, most voters are successfully navigating the process – even without online assistance. Some of this, Dana observes, has a lot to do with old-fashioned customer service:

[M]any jurisdictions have put a greeter at the main entrance to direct
people to the correct precinct right away. Having a well-trained greeter or team of
greeters closes that gap [between successful and unsuccessful voting experiences].

Dana’s takeaway for the Commission is consistent with the overall message incorporated into the Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent, namely:

Design, usability, and accessibility are vital across the voter experience. When a voter
can prepare efficiently and vote effectively, election administration works well, too.

Conducting simple checks for usability and accessibility can be quick, inexpensive,
and lead to continuing improvement election to election.

Thanks, as always, to Dana and her team for their efforts to make voting work for voters!

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