Case Study — Ballot: a Digital Resource to Assist Young Adults with the Voting Process

A project by Ohio State design student Michael Booher

The Ballot digital resource was developed primarily to serve voters in the 18–25-year-old age group, with the goal of increasing voter turnout during elections. Research indicates that a large percentage of individuals from this demographic in Franklin County, Ohio, only vote during presidential elections, or not at all.

Duration
Fall 2013 and Spring 2014 academic terms. The first semester was devoted to problem identification and generative research with stakeholders to establish design directions. The second semester was devoted to project development and evaluative research with stakeholders to refine design prototypes.
First semester advisor: Associate Professor Peter Kwok Chan.
Second semester advisor: Professor Paul Nini.


Description
Voting is a right, yet it is one that Americans increasingly do not exercise. Whether it’s because of confusing ballot language, or the perception that these issues don’t pertain to a particular voter — the simple fact is that voter turnout is decreasing, especially among young adults. Creating good voting habits at an early stage can make young adults voters for life. Ballot is a resource designed to assist young adults through the election process, and is intended to take the guesswork out of voting. It is a tool that gives young adults clear, non-partisan information that allows them to make educated choices during elections.

Voter turnout typically drops dramatically during non-presidential elections. As an example, in Franklin County, Ohio, 71 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2012 election, when President Barack Obama was reelected. In contrast, only 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2013 election, when no presidential election was held. In a survey conducted with 45 respondents aged 18–25, only 21 percent indicated that they vote in almost every election; 55 percent indicated that they only vote during presidential election years; and 24 percent indicated that they never vote. Therefore, 79 percent of the individuals surveyed either don’t vote at all or only vote once every 4 years. Clearly, room for improvement exists.

Conversations with potential users uncovered the following reasons for not voting:
• confusion concerning how to register to vote.
• inability to understand ballot language, especially about issues, school levies, etc.
• difficulties with recalling how they wish to vote when going to the polling place.
• inability to locate the correct polling place to cast their votes.

To address the above issues, Ballot was created as a possible, responsive web platform and digital resource to assist young adults with the voting process.

Function 1: Register
By answering some brief questions, Ballot can check voters’ registration status. If they need to register or change their address, Ballot can walk them through the step-by-step process.

Function 2: Come prepared
All ballot language is broken down into easy-to-understand text, so that voters know exactly what an issue might mean to them.

Function 3: My checklist
Once voters have done their research, they can create a simple list to remind them how they intend to vote. The mobile platform makes it easy for voters to take their checklist into the voting booth.

Function 4: Where to vote
Many voters know where their polling station is — but for young adults who may move frequently, voting can be more difficult. The application shows voters exactly where their polling place is and how to get there.

A responsive web platform
Most young adults get their news from the internet, and it’s a powerful tool to help them get connected. A responsive web platform means that voters can access Ballot on multiple devices, including desktop and tablet computers, and smartphones.

Research
Students are required in the fourth-year thesis process to identify a social and/or commercial problem area that requires a design response. They conduct secondary research to gather sources to better inform them about the various issues surrounding their problem area. Students then engage and collaborate with a variety of stakeholders — such as direct users, audience members, and other interested parties — to generate possible approaches to the problem. Design prototypes are developed, which are then refined via evaluative research with stakeholders to arrive at finished design solutions.

Challenges
Access to users was not an issue, as many individuals from the 18–25-year-old age group in the Ohio State University campus community were willing to speak about the voting process and to evaluate design prototypes at various stages. The major challenge was with the local county board of elections, which chose not to participate in the project. Fortunately, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters proved to be very helpful, and provided valuable background information, as well as feedback on the project as it developed.

Strategy
After the basic functional criteria were established via secondary research and conversations with users, two brand identity directions were developed and applied to sample touch points. The visual direction implemented was clearly favored by the various stakeholders, and was then refined. A demonstration walk-through scenario was developed, and wireframe designs were constructed to identify required interactive elements on various screens. The final brand identity elements were applied to all aspects of the project, and a video demonstration of the project was created.

Effectiveness
As the project has not been implemented, there is no way of knowing if it will indeed increase regular voting among 18–25-year-olds. However, feedback on finished prototypes indicates a high level of acceptance from members of the potential user group. Given how difficult it can be to: 1) register to vote; 2) to find and to keep clear information that informs one’s votes; and 3) locate the correct polling place — an application such as this stands a good chance of acceptance if made widely available. Virtually everyone who has seen the demonstration of the project has expressed a desire to actually use it, which can be taken as a very good sign.

Assessment
The faculty members and professional designers who evaluated this project favorably assessed its results from both functional and aesthetic standpoints, praising both its ease of use and straightforward interaction design. The student designer had a very good experience with a project created to have positive social impact, and planned to approach organizations such as the League of Women Voters to explore future sponsorship and implementation possibilities.

Find out more
Video demonstration of the project.
Project overview from 2014 Ohio State student design exhibit.

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Originally published in Developing Citizen Designers, Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. 251–254. Elizabeth Resnick, editor.

Design educator + Professor @ The Ohio State University