“And Then There Were Ten”: Quesenbery and Chisnell on the New Field Guides


[Screenshot image via civicdesign]

electionlineWeekly has a guest column this week from the Center on Civic Design’s Whitney Quesenbery and Dana Chisnell, who write about the latest additions to their wildly popular Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent. I’m confident that many readers of this blog are already familiar with (and use) the Guides – but the piece is simultaneously a reintroduction and vivid reminder of how valuable good design can be to the election process:

We’ve always believed that democracy is a design problem — that design can help solve the biggest problems in elections.

The trouble is that even though there is a lot of good research evidence for the power of good design principles applied to an election challenge, it’s hard to make the leap from the research to its practical application.

And so, the Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent were born.

The Field Guides tackle critical topics in election design from ballot design to signage in polling places. Instead of pages and pages of reports, each one has 10 tips and a checklist, with examples pulled from the real world of elections.

They are designed to fit into the busy world of election administration: Short enough to use in a meeting. Small enough to fit in your pocket.

Last year, we put them online, so they are available any time and anywhere, in a responsive, accessible website. Always at your finger tips, on your mobile phone.

The real test was whether election officials could use the Field Guide to improve election materials. You can see a before-and-after example in the redesign of the provisional ballot form in Ohio or a non-elections example of a tax bill in Grand County, Utah.

This year, we rounded out the series with two new guides:

Vol 9Vol 10

            Volume 9 – Creating accessible online information

            Volume 10 – Creating forms that help voters take action

With these new Field Guides, we follow our goal of keeping up with the hot issues in elections with useful tools to help meet those challenges.

Accessibility was an obvious choice. With the expansion of election systems into online voter registration, electronic poll books, and many more ways to communicate with voters electronically, the options for accessible elections expand. But only if we take the time up front to build accessibility in from the start.

Most election offices don’t build software applications, but these days, they are on the web and social media, so this Field Guide focuses on the basics to make the voter experience accessible.

When we reviewed our tips with accessibility experts, one of the pointed out that although each tip may seem small, they add up to something big. Just like the tips for ballot design, writing instructions, and creating election websites.

A Field Guide on election forms was the next logical step. Elections are full of forms, starting with voter registration and going right through to signing a vote-by-mail return envelope.

One of our favorite tips is also one of the easiest:

Make the signature fields stand out.
Using an X to mark the location of a signature helps people get it right.

We’ve seen the power of that X in our usability testing. As Tammy Patrick, from the PCEA and Bipartisan Policy Center says, it’s important on almost every election form because without a valid signature, the form just doesn’t count. That’s bad for voters and makes extra work for election officials.

We hope the Field Guides can help every election official make all of their election materials easy for voters and good for election administration.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing work at civicdesign, subscribe to their newsletter at tinyletter.com/civicdesigning … and if you don’t have your own copies of the Guides (which are free to election officials thanks to the generous support of the MacArthur Foundation) you can get them at most election conferences or by contacting hello@civicdesign.org.

Whitney and Dana are literally changing the field of election administration with their work and I’m delighted that they are working with us here at the University of Minnesota to help build a course that will expose students and practitioners to the field of design and provide hands-on experience in applying design principles to the election process.

The future is coming – and it will undoubtedly be well-designed. Stay tuned!

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