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Election Tech Tuesday: Q&A with Drew Davies-Integrating Design With the Election Process

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Election Tech Tuesday

This Election Data Dispatch series explores emerging issues in elections technology and their relationship to elections, the future of voting, and civic engagement in America.

Q&A with Drew Davies—Integrating Design With the Election Process

Drew Davies was part of the core design and research team that developed the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s official election design standards, and he continues to be involved in implementing best practices for ballot design nationwide. Davies is the founder and design director of Oxide Design Co., a communications and information design firm established in 2001, and he serves as the national design director of AIGA’s Design for Democracy program. Oxide recently redesigned Pew’s Voting Information Project website.

Q: You recently testified before the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Can you describe the experience? What were the most exciting outcomes?

A: I was invited to testify because of Oxide’s ongoing work on the Anywhere Ballot project, an easy to use, interactive digital ballot interface. The project’s goal is to discover new solutions that make the entire voting process more accessible to every citizen. Although voting is a basic part of participating in a democracy, many people, including those with disabilities, are confronted with a variety of barriers to casting their ballot. Anywhere Ballot works to remove those barriers.

When the [commission] released its report in January, I was very excited to see Anywhere Ballot identified as one of the best-practice tools for election administrators. It’s a great feeling when you realize you’re watching—and a part of—history in the making. The hearings and report have a real chance of dramatically improving the way we all vote. I was honored to participate in the process on behalf of such a worthy project.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention Oxide’s instrumental partners on the project, Dana Chisnell of the Center for Civic Design and Kathryn Summers of the University of Baltimore. They are both experts in the field of usability, and I admire their commitment to this project.

Q: What is one of the most innovative projects you’ve worked on related to election design?

A: Through Design for Democracy, I’ve worked closely with Dana Chisnell and Whitney Quesenbery to distill best practices for election design into a series of pocket-size handbooks called Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent. Each book includes researched guidelines and examples about a common election design problem, such as unclear language in instructions or poorly designed ballots. They include guidance for writing instructions for voters, testing ballots for usability, and creating effective materials for poll workers.

Just as an aside, the initial production of the handbooks was funded through Kickstarter, an Internet-based fundraising platform, and due to the popularity of this project, it raised over 130 percent of its original funding goal. Since then, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has been a key supporter as well.

Q: As a designer, what drives your interest in election design work?

A: I believe that every person in America should not only have the right to vote, but to vote with accuracy they can trust. Integrating design with the election process, such as voter information and ballots, means these materials are developed with an eye toward accessibility and trustworthiness.

Q: What do accessibility and design entail, and why are they so important?

A: One of Oxide’s primary goals when working on civic and election design is to make every element as accessible as possible. That is, easily usable by as large a percentage of the population as possible, regardless of physical disability, cognitive impairment, level of education, or other factors. Only if we design for every category of citizens can we claim to be working to make voting easier for all Americans.

Q: Describe how your work in the civic design realm overlaps or influences your private work.

A: At Oxide, we design to solve problems, realize meaningful change, help people, and make sense of the world. We’re involved in a lot of different election design efforts, working to make the voting process clearer and more trustworthy and accessible. While it might not be immediately obvious to everyone, good design is essential to elections. It ensures that voters can reliably and accurately express their intent.

Q: How would someone begin to get involved in this work?

A: Go to Ballotup.com and upload the sample ballot from the most recent or upcoming election in your county. We are trying to create the world’s largest repository of sample ballots, and this will help us immensely.

You can also encourage your local election officials to implement the best practices outlined in the official report from the presidential commission and order a set of the field guides for help in improving the elections process for their voters.

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