January 23, 2018

Voting NYC Nov 2: Hello? Universal Design?


I’m the oddball having never voted with a paper ballot so this mid-term election was an eye opener. I used to say, “What’s so hard about paper ballots?” Now I know.

I longingly cherish our NYC mechanical voting booths with their bare incandescent lights, threadbare curtains and creaky gears and cranky levers. They made a sound I’ll never forget – the sound of voting … democracy is noisy! I once brought my kids to vote and see these dinosaurs knowing that electronic voting was on the way. I wondered where they were stored and who brought them back to life each election. Sounds like they were running out of people who knew how to keep these relics alive; they were old too. Seems like political agendas and technology have put these machines into the museum and the landfill.

So there I was with my paper ballot. “Do you have a pen or pencil?” I asked. I got a grouchy no. First problem. “Could you tell me how to do this?” Another grouchy and unhelpful answer. Another problem; I figured it out and found a pen. The voting booth? Another case of one size fits all – standing use only. It was also clear from the design that considerations favored their storage and transportation, not the voter. For me that meant hunching over. Its sides, meant to offer privacy, blocked the light making it hard to see. Forget it; I grabbed a nearby table and sat.

The ballot itself was confusing and I am not easily confused. It was hard to tell if I was still voting for governor, or had moved into the senator section, or had voted for two governors. Why? Lots of candidates spilled into a second row, one that wasn’t clearly connected – it kinda floated. Your eyes couldn’t scan across, they had to jump back and forth assembling this puzzle. Font size was too small, maybe 10 point. Font was sans-serif (Helvitica?) which is preferred for reading on a screen, not the printed page. Lines used to create the letters were thin and too easily disappeared into the white of the page. The ballot was two sided with no clear indication that there was more voting on the flip side. Voting was a matter of coloring in a circle – pen only! Finally, there was no clear indication that my next step was to feed my paper ballot into an electronic reader.

Was universal design applied to NYC voting? Not very well. The best I can say, and I must appreciate an acquaintance for his dogged work, is that NY has moved into the electronic voting era with a hard copy of your vote; we are not electronic-only. Thank-you David!