Voter Intent / User Behavior

Published on Author Christopher Fahey3 Comments

In Minnesota, they are currently recounting the ballots in the Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. As part of the process, they are re-analyzing thousands of ballots that were discarded during the initial optical-scan machine count due to problems with the ballots themselves — usually stray marks and incompletely-filled-in dots. Usually, a human being can figure out the “voter intent” when the machine failed in the initial count.

Sometimes, however, the voter intent isn’t all that clear. Minnesota Public Radio has put up photographs of some of the more interesting examples of disputed ballots. And, in a weird kind of democratic recursiveness, is asking visitors to vote on the votes!

This is especially fascinating to me as an interaction designer because it emphasizes yet again how our users are not at all the rational, predictable beings we sometimes assume they are. They’ll click on anything and everything, and will fill in forms with the weirdest stuff you can think of. These ballots remind me of the kind of weird stuff you see in usability testing sessions and when analyzing the actual information users input into, say, e-commerce order forms (putting their name in the zip code field, for example, or writing angry profane messages in the address field).

My favorite is this guy who seems to have voted for Al Franken, and then risked negating his vote by writing in “Lizard People” as a write-in candidate (thinking, presumably, that it won’t count because he didn’t also fill in the circle next to it). Mischievousness, civic service, and abject nihilism are clearly fighting for this guy’s very soul — and the outcome is clearly too close to call.

(Hopefully, this is one of the last election-themed posts I make for a while.)

3 Responses to Voter Intent / User Behavior

  1. The Star Tribune has posted about 600 of the challenged ballots: (May be boring if you’re only interested in the ballots that have a story to tell.)

    I think it’s worth pointing out that this voter asked for lizard people in nearly every position, including soil and water conservation district supervisor. It’s just a fun ballot. I wonder what this voter is thinking now, if they are even aware of their ballot’s infamy?

  2. Love these ballots!

    It is also interesting (albeit obvious) how the parties will basically contest any ballot for any reason if the vote does not seem to go their way.

  3. Contesting ballots is hardly a new phenomenon, nor are complaints about their design.

    I’d imagine any designs or redesigns for ballots would be very politically loaded process. People would fuss over all sorts of things, getting up in arms over new ideas for the interface, just as everyone has rained controversy on the electronic voting machines since their first mass distributions in 2001.

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