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A Genius Bar for Voting

IDEO Palo Alto recently hosted a brainstorm for our Voting Challenge. One of our ideas was to focus on customer service at the polling place and create a "genius bar" for voting.

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Written by DeletedUser

Recently  BrianYusuke, Alisa,  Nathan and  Ashley got together for a Voting Challenge brainstorm. We used the  Brainstorm in a Box toolkit and the  Concepting Personas to focus our conversation on specific voter needs and capabilities. For this concept we focused on voters like Maria, Tyler, Amy, or anyone who could use a little extra time or flexibility to cast a ballot.

How might we reframe the rolls and responsibilities of poll workers so that they start thinking of themselves as customer service agents, and of the polling place like an Apple Genius Bar?

Here's how this idea came about:

Alisa was really excited about the idea of customer service - after reading through the personas, she thought it was clear that many of the people on the list sounded like they could use a little extra assistance, attention, time or flexibility to meet their voting needs.

This made Yusuke think of the help/information desks you often see at hospitals, hotels, or other service businesses. Might poll workers start thinking of themselves like customer service agents?

One of Brian's builds on this was to suggest that people who need some extra time or who have special voting needs could come in to vote a day early. It's less frenetic that way and might be better suited to people who'd like a bit more time and/or assistance. It also would help the poll workers (aka: customer service agents) assist voters individually and tailor the voting options to each voter's needs. In this way, everyone's less rushed, more comfortable, and feels like they're working together to accomplish something important.

Then it hit us: what if going to the polls was like making an appointment at an Apple Genius Bar? What if you could sign up in advance for a voting time slot, either online, by phone, or even by mail - and get a confirmation that "you'll be meeting John at 10am for your personalized voting appointment."

And when you got the polling place, what if there was a comfortable waiting area/lounge for you to hang out, read some materials about your accessible voting options, and when John was ready, he could come greet you in the lounge and discuss your voting needs? He could then help you decide which voting method (paper ballot, audio booth, braille ballot, etc) that would best suit your needs, as well as prepare the voting booth with the appropriate assistive technologies.

By reframing the roll of the poll worker to focus on customer service, it makes it ok for everyone to share how they need help with their vote. It does mean asking for help, which can be interpreted as the opposite of an independent voting experience. But we embraced the idea that being able to honestly state what you need as a voter and then having a calm, confident and confidential customer service agent prepare the voting booth to fit your needs is actually just as independent an experience as any other customer service interaction.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?

Voting can be stressful, confusing and overwhelming for every voter. This concept enables people who need a little extra time, assistance or instruction to get that from a high-touch customer service agent.

What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?

This is definitely not a small concept: it would require reworking how election officials hire, train and manage poll workers, as well as critical investments in infrastructure, technology, process and other areas. It's possible that some elements of this concept could be tried out earlier than others, and with fewer resource requirements. What if a group of hotel staff, for instance, chose to volunteer on election day to help assist all voters? Or, maybe even better - what if those hotel staff provided free training to poll workers in advance of election day, to help them bring a customer service orientation to election day?


Join the conversation:

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The suggestion of using hotel staff to train poll workers is an adequate technique, especially because customer service is harder said than done. Another analogy for this new focus on customer service is what Ritz Carlton’s did for the hospitality services. Their motto of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” exemplifies how highly-trained staff can create a superior experience for users.

One way to try out this concept without incurring a lot of infrastructure investment would be to partner with local coffee shops. Some of these places are already known for their comfortable and friendly lounges, so their environment would be fitting to this concept.

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Interesting ideas Eduardo would be good if polling places became a comfortable environment where instead of a long queue people could sit, read, play with their kids etc. while waiting their turn to vote.
If this could be done with making the voting faster and easier then more staff time could be devoted to helping those having various difficulties.

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I like the idea of partnering with local coffee shops, which tend to already be part of the community and informal hubs for the exchange of information. Many also host regular community events, so could be a logical place for voters to find election details and share concerns. Plus, coffee and cake!

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