Saturday, November 01, 2008

So, we're using eSlate, (online demo available! In fact, part of my knowledge of the interface described below [such as write-ins] are derived from the demo, not trying it on the actual ballot) electronic voting with a very stupid interface.

Inputs are:
* A dial.
* An 'enter' key.
* 'Prev' and 'Next' keys.
* A 'Cast Ballot' key.
* A 'Help' button.

You enter your 'access code' ([0-9]{4} or perhaps [1-9][0-9]{3}) by using the dial to scroll through the digits 0-9 and selecting 'enter' for each one'. (Scrolling wraps around, and there's a 'Clear last' button after the 0.) It doesn't reset your position after choosing a digit, which was good for me, because mine ended with '22'.

Dial's are hard to use. They're inconvenient. Why are they better than arrow keys, even just two? Maybe people with palsy can more easily manipulate the dial? Sure is a lot harder for me.

After you enter your access code (hope you didn't need to 'Clear Last' on that last digit--it automatically moves on!) Then it has a page of instructions, and then pages of the ballot. Prev/Next will skip between pages, as will using the dial to scroll off the top or bottom of the page. The dial scrolls through each option of each question on the page, so to get to an option for something on the middle of the first page, you first must either scroll through the first half (President, for one), or go to the next page and scroll back through the last half. Write-ins are done similarly to the access code, but you have 26 letters + clear last + space, you only get eighteen characters max, and you get to manually say 'Accept' when the name is complete. If you do a write-in and then switch to something else, it will blank the name in the write-in box, so if you switch back, you have to re-enter the name. Possibly reduces the risk of people accidentally entering a write-in and then accidentally selecting a non-write-in without realising it.

After you've done all pages, it has two pages showing what you selected for each (good: confirmation!) and then you press 'Cast Ballot' and it says the ballot has been cast and to leave the booth. Also good.

Here's the thing, though: when I first switched to the second page and tried scrolling, it didn't scroll through the options as it should. It went to the next page. I went back to the instruction page, saw that I'm right and they're wrong, and after going back and forth for again, the dial started working.

This is really broken and really bizarre behaviour. As a programming, I can say with confidence that it didn't really happen. It's just user error.

As someone who has read a lot about electronic voting in the US, though, and as the user, I'm a lot less confident.

Lessons of the day:
1. Don't reinvent the UI.
1a. You'll just make it worse.
1b. Familiarity is very valuable, especially for UIs a user will see once for a couple minutes every two years, or (more likely) once for two minutes once.
2. Test your voting equipment thoroughly.
2a. Ensure proper behaviour.
2b. Ensure user error is exceptionally rare and is handled gracefully.

1 comment:

LKBM said...

Apparently, voting straight Democratic ticket in Texas (I hear--at least Travis County, it sounds like) automatically makes you vote for McCain.

For serious?

Obama wasn't going to win Texas anyway, but letting this be this incredibly fucked up is totally unacceptable.