Voting in the United States is not a uniform experience across the nation. Depending on where you live, whether you vote digitally or by paper ballot could change your voting experience dramatically. Personally, I've moved around a lot and have registered to vote in 4 different states (blue states, red states, and one not technically a state), voted absentee (both early and overseas), and in-person at a polling place using a touchscreen ballot. My personal experience essentially has gone something like this: Google, phone calls, emails, wait, more Google, call a friend, email my political party, wait, sometimes printing, sometimes not printing, vote, sometimes mailing, sometimes waiting in line, sending my vote into the ether, sometimes finding out whether or not it's been counted, sometimes never knowing. I've received postcards with updates in the voting process. I've also received nothing in the voting process. My most recent voting experience (hello, 2020) led me to reach out to the UX designers here at LookThink. There HAS to be a better way... right?
UX Guidelines All Ballots Should Follow
1. Explain the purpose of the ballot. It's important to denote what type of election this ballot is even for. Make sure to denote whether this is a national, state, county, or local election.
2. Understand how typography impacts usability. There is so much to typography that could impact the legibility of a ballot. Make sure to use sentence-case and lowercase, instead of UPPERCASE. UPPERCASE LETTERS ARE HARDER TO READ AND PEOPLE ARE MORE LIKELY TO IGNORE TEXT IF IT'S IN ALL CAPS.
Centered type isn't great either.
The eye is forced to stop reading when you move to the next line.
Left-aligned type is better.
Avoid justified type. It's too hard to read.
Also, make sure your type is big enough.
At least 12px should suffice.
Also, make sure you use one font throughout. Sans serif is best.
3. Make sure there are cues in place that support navigation. For example, clearly label and call out multiple pages. For touchscreen ballots, offer multiple languages, continuous access to the instructions, and clear feedback about selections.
4. Be as clear as possible. The language should be clear and simple. The illustrations (if any) should be simple and accurate to convey constructions. The icons should be informational in nature, not decorative, and should only be used to support navigation or call attention to key information.
4a. Use clear hierarchy. We can't stress enough that everything needs to be clear but hierarchy deserves its own special callout. In fact, we have a suggested order. The ballot title should be the most prominent, followed by the instructions. Candidate names should come next and should be more prominent than the candidate positions. Additionally, candidate names should all have the same style and the order of candidates should be randomized to avoid "the primary effect".
5. Offer a way for voters to ask for help. UX doesn't end with ballot design. Poll workers are great resources for helping voters navigate the voting experience. Headcount is another great resource to help voters navigate the voting and registration process.
As UX Designers, we understand the burden should not fall on the user to "figure it out". As designers (and state legislatures), it is our responsibility to create a positive user experience for one of the most fundamental rights we have as US citizens.