[Image via MyVote]
Mindy Moretti’s latest piece for electionlineWeekly looks at recent upgrades to Washington State’s MyVote portal made with all voters in mind:
Accessible [ak-ses-uh-buh l]; adj.— able to be reached or approached; able to be used or obtained; easy to appreciate or understand
The secretary’s office worked with the Statewide Disability Advisory Committee, the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library — which is a division of the secretary’s office — elections experts and designers and application developers.
According to Lori Augino, director of elections, the secretary’s office had already been hard at work on a modernization effort set to launch in late 2017/early 2018, but with the importance of the 2016 election cycle weighing heavily they decided to move more quickly with some changes. [emphasis added]
“Knowing this is a year where we expect unprecedented turnout, we asked our Disability Advisory Committee if we should make some incremental improvements before the full modernization effort is set to launch,” Augino said. “The answer was a resounding yes. So we set out create a new and improved voter tool that is accessible to all voters across Washington.”
Augino said the office has been watching activity in other states, including complaints and litigation and researched all of the known cases and reached out to several states to see what lessons they may be able to learn.
“When that report came out, we read it cover to cover and analyzed our online voter registration tool and our website to ensure we met all the minimum requirements,” Augino said. “While we met all the requirements, we thought we could do better than just meeting the basics. Our new and improved MyVote tool provides features and accessibility beyond just the minimum requirements.”
The site is available in four languages and allows voters to download a fully accessible e-ballot that they can then return by mail. All elements of the site, including the online voter registration portal, the voter’s guide and information about drop box locations was tested for usability, using 14 different combinations of internet browsers and screen readers.
Because the site was already a pretty comprehensive personalized voter tool, the state didn’t need to expand any functionality and was instead able to focus on improving the user’s experience.
The site was updated for no additional costs other than time for the state’s IT staff, although Augino said the staff did have to forgo working on some other projects while completing the accessibility update.
“The technical team here at the Washington Office of the Secretary of State is phenomenal,” Augino said. “The ‘dream team’ that developed, tested, and marketed the new service included Matthew Edwards, Swathi Kovuri, Stuart Holmes, William Edwards, Dale Garrison, Mike Boucher, Christopher An-Träumer, and Marlene White.
During the process, Augino said the office was surprised by the lack of expert accessibility testers for technology. She said finding independent third parties to test and provide feedback was tough, but they have since identified some additional vendors that they will continue to use to ensure any upgrades or changes they make to MyVote won’t impact the site’s accessibility.
Moving forward, Augino said the office is interested in working with counties and voter groups to identify new needs to incorporate in the future. And the state will continue with the full modernization effort that will improve the way it’s systems are integrated.
“Taking on a project of this nature in a presidential election year was high risk. Typically elections administrators avoid major upgrades or over-hauls to systems during these peak times and focus solely on keeping the systems running smooth,” Augino said. “But this was super important to us. Ensuring all of our Washington voters have access to information at their fingertips is something we pride ourselves on. It was worth the risk!”
Those of us in the field often talk about the desire to increase participation rates as high as possible; it only makes sense to ensure that the tools voters have available are usable and useful to everyone. Kudos to the team in Washington State for not only working to improve the MyVote site but doing so on an expedited basis knowing that voter interest will be sky-high this year. Thanks also to those advocates for voters with disabilities for both highlighting accessibility as an issue as well as working with election officials to make it happen.
Stay tuned …