Usability of Election touch screen voting machines

For this week usability example I decided to describe the voting machine I used on Saturday. (early voting, yay!)

I was dreading going on Saturday since it meant there would be tons of people trying to do what I was doing, avoiding having to go vote on a work/class day.  The first center I tried had a giant line that I stood in for fifteen minutes without stepping an inch.  I decided to abandon it and try a different center.  The next place was much better and I stood in line to get my driver’s license read by the polling worker and have her ask me if I lived at the address she pulled up on her laptop.  I confirmed, she stuck a little credit card with an electronic chip embedded in it into a little holder plugged into her laptop.  She waited a minute and then handed me back both my cards. This new card she handed me was my Voter Access Card and apparently contained some data that would allow the polling computer to know that I was voting and not allow my information data to be used again. (to prevent people from voting at multiple places with the same demographic information) I then went and stood in another line for a while, about ten minutes.  I briefly wondered what would happen if I built up a giant static shock from my wool coat and zapped the card.

This center had four polling booths surrounded by little blue dividers blocking my choices from other people.  This machine was a touch screen computer than instructed me to put my Voter access card in the prominent card holder on the side of the screen.  I slid the Voter Access card into the machine.  It took it and held it so I couldn’t take it back out and mess up by ballot until I was done. (I assumed this part, I heard it click when I pushed it in and the design didn’t look like I could really mess with it when it was in there)  The screen then instructed me how to use the touch screen and correct mistakes if I made them.  It cautioned me that my ballot would not be cast until the very end when I pushed the “Cast Ballot Now” button.  This button did not appear until I had reviewed all my choices. (preventing the error of casting your ballot before you were done)

The first thing it displayed was the ability to vote straight ticket. This is where you vote based off a party rather than for each individual candidate. I chose not to vote straight ticket and clicked next to be taken to the presidential Ballot. I then used my finger to select my candidates whom I wished to vote for from the list.  I did not write in a candidate for the entire ballot so I don’t know if that option brought up a touch screen keyboard or how that would have worked. If you didn’t vote for a section, at the summary part of the process that section would show up in red and say “not voted”. (Or something similar, I’m not certain what the words were but it was all in red while all the others I had voted for were in blue)

The font was very legible and large enough that I think just about anyone would be able to read it easily.  It also made certain to illustrate very clearly what the position was and who the candidates were.


I did have some trouble with the calibration of my machine.  It twice selected someone else for me when I touched the correct “buttons”. From the muttered, “damnit” from the person next to me, I suspect it did that to them too.

After I had made all my selections and there were no more positions to vote for the screen displayed my voting summary.  After I scrolled through my choices double checking, the “Cast Ballot Now” button appeared.  I pushed the button the screen paused and then thanked me and instructed me to take my Voter Access card which audibly clicked as it was freed.  I passed my card to the polling worker and got my “I voted today” sticker.

Overall, it was interesting experience.  This is the second time I’ve been able to vote in a presidential election.  The first time I filled in a scan-tron sheet ballot and then fed it into a little machine that told me “Thank you, your vote has been counted”.  That was one bit of feedback that amused me, and I wished that the touch screens had included that at the end.  I found it easy to correct mistakes on the touch screen and even if the calibration was slightly off, it wasn’t entirely annoying.  The concept of the electronic cards as a precaution also was interesting.  They reused the cards over and over, rewriting them with the new voter’s information.  I personally found the voting machine very usable and was rather impressed by its clean and clear screen designs.

The only thing that I worried about was the elderly’s ability to use the touch screens. An elderly woman had to stand up out of her wheelchair in order to see the screen.  Also, I worry that they won’t understand touch screen systems fully nor how to correct mistakes.   I felt relaxed while I voted and I hope that the elderly aren’t put off by the touch screen technology.
There is also the issue of hacking to change votes.  I fully admit I don’t know anything about the process, but I know it can be done and with fully electronic means, there is no back up plan if the votes are compromised.  As much as I found the touch screen nifty, I think it would be safer to use a mix of paper and electronic.


Overall, good usability for our generation but maybe not the safest way to collect votes.


  1. I’ve never used a machine to vote. All I’ve done before were paper based. It should be a good experience.
    For the calibration problem, if application designer applied large buttons for those important elements, the user should not have the problem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s