Lessons of the E-vote

by July 28, 2004

Some interesting interface design lessons emerge from post-Floridian efforts to computerize voting. Following the 2000 election, most people assumed technology would be the silver bullet for the hanging chad.

But security holes and the simple fact that computerized voting systems provide “no way to prove that the cast ballots were recorded properly or that those tallied bear any resemblance to actual votes" have forced many states to require hard copy paper trails. It seems there are things that computers can’t do after all: no amount of testing and redundant memory has convinced elected officials that their future can be tied to bits alone. However, the real lesson here is one of context:

“Stop studying machines out of context. Even the geeks have broadened their focus to the entire election process, from ballot design to polling-day procedures.”

It’s a situation common to many software projects (especially content management systems). A development team sees technology (and not end users) as their solve. They need an elevated view of the problem they’re tackling in order to gain the right amount of contextual awareness to decide between technology, process, or a combination of both. A user-centered design process is necessary to reveal that “real human need” (user goal) that clarifies the problem and points the way to the right solution.