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Rethinking Election Queues

Today IDEO Palo Alto hosted a brainstorm for our Voting Challenge. We were particularly curious about how polling places could be redesigned to make the process of waiting in line and casting a ballot less confusing and rushed, and more private.

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Written by DeletedUser

Today  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 a voter like Angela, who often feels rushed when she votes.

How might we bring structure to the polling place and the voting experience so that someone like Angela feels like she has the time she needs to vote, and is able do so privately and on her own?

We had a few different ideas for changing up the structure of the polling place:

Brian suggested that we create two lines, very similar to the various lines you see when you go through airport security. Could we make it "ok" for anyone who needs a little extra time to select the "want more time" line? Of course we'd need to make sure that there were enough polling booths at each group so that the folks who needed more time didn't end up waiting too long to cast their ballot.

What if we could have signposts at different points throughout the line that explained different parts of the voting process, as Nathan has outlined here? The signs could explain the materials you need to check in, the different languages a voter can select for his or her ballot, or even how to signal to a poll worker that you need help, without getting out of line?

Focusing more specifically on privacy, Yusuke also suggested a new format for the polling place (top right) where all of the voting booths were behind a special curtain. Voters would queue up behind the curtain, and when you got to the front of the line, you'd get to choose the type of accessible voting options you needed. This would enable any voter to request certain voting access with a greater degree of privacy and security than going straight up to a poll worker and asking for help in front of everyone.

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

These are just early suggestions for how to improve the polling place experience so that it helps voting feel less rushed and intimidating, and more private. A big issue to consider is not just around recommendations for redesigning the layout and queue process of polling places, but also about implementation locally and around the country. What kind of incentives, training, manuals or other resources might we need to create to help election officials and poll workers actually implement these layout changes?

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DeletedUser

Seems like if we're looking to design a more accessible voting experience, we should just skip polling places (and the related queues) all together. Isn't the most convenient and accessible polling place each person's individual home?

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DeletedUser

I suppose it depends on the person's home (if they have one).

And everyone is different. Some people love going to shop at malls, others would rather shop from home online.

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Photo of Avi Solomon

How about a Biometric "Fast Lane" or something like the Disney Fast Pass system?

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Photo of Paul Reader

As always interesting and thought provoking ideas Avi.
There was an inspiration around Disney theme parks - do you know if it described the Disney Fast Pass system?

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Photo of Avi Solomon

http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/inspiration/disney-parks-experts-in-crowd-management/
http://boingboing.net/2012/02/10/walt-disney-world-tightens-the.html

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Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks for the links Avi - they make interesting reading.
I can see situations where fast passes could be issued to voters with special needs, even before they leave home, to allow them to bypass the 'normal' queue once they arrive at the polling place.

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Photo of Paul Reader

Great thinking here!

It seems that in the US so many elections take place on weekdays, whereas ours take place on Saturdays. Besides being more convenient for many voters it also extends the choice of available polling places (particularly schools) that have the room to set up sufficient private space to vote, usually have adequate parking, often have appropriate and adequate wheelchair access etc.

On the question of queues there is a huge amount of research on queuing (of which I have no specific knowledge). From experience the issue seems to be tackled in many ways. Once upon a time banks (here) had a separate queue for each teller now there is a single queue, sometimes supported by a ticket machine that establishes your position in the queue but allows you to sit and read while you are waiting or perhaps even go outside again and await the call to transact your business (such ticket machines have been included, in various guises, in other concepts and inspirations.
Where you gain an established place in the queue it tends to relieve stress a little. If you miss your cue to collect a ballot, perhaps because you needed to take a child to the toilet, you are not penalised by going to the back again but only by losing a few places in the queue.

What if instead of having to present identity to receive a ballot you presented it to receive a ticket & reserve a place in the queue, then presented the ticket in exchange for the ballot?
Furthermore, if in presenting your identity you could establish special needs, the 'system' could allocate you a number already recently used to move you near the head of the line. I dont know real figures for US polling stations but, for example:
Suppose you present your ID to receive your queue ticket and the next number would normally be 157 but your record on the roll (or on your ID) indicates special needs - if, at that time, clerks issuing ballots are processing numbers 123 through 135 (and assuming all prior numbers have been processed) the 'system' could issue you a number like 119 which would place you at the head of the queue to receive a ballot.
There are now 2 queues one (resembling an ordinary queue) to receive a ticket which reserves a place in the second queue according to need. Turnover in the first queue would be much quicker than in the existing system whilst the second queue becomes dispersed for greater comfort and benefit.
I shall float this idea in Team S.O.Y.'s concept of Comfort Waiting (see AL's post here), Stefan Ritters Priority Queues (same reference) and build on it in my concept for Reporting Voting Traffic
( http://www.openideo.com/open/voting/concepting/mapping-accessability-rating-and-traffic-reports./ )

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Photo of Paul Reader

Actually on reflection I might float it as a complementary concept as well.

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Photo of Paul Reader

On rereading this concept I think some of the other points you raise like signage at different points in the queue might be better managed with a 'dispersed queue'.

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DeletedUser

Nice thinking you guys. Couple of thoughts:
1) like what you highlighted at the end - the implementation aspects are going to be really important when the solution requires changes to the way people do things
2) the segmentation idea is great! I did wonder whether there would be scope to think of other ways to segment - people that are still undecided could get access relevant candidate materials (inc. audio/brail); people with genuine issues with waiting around for long periods such as elderly or disabled could go through a 'fast-track' (again borrowing from the airline analogy you used)
3) These ideas could also be used to think about how queues are managed through the day; given variable patterns (e.g., high demand before and after work) the resource allocation at the booths could be shifted (e.g., more 'in a rush' queues for workers pushed for time to vote at lunch) and with appropriate communication to the voting community it could help smooth demand fluctuations.

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DeletedUser

Oh, great thinking around the management of queues throughout the day Mark! Hopefully our concept might inspire some others - especially around the implementation questions you mentioned. How could we help poll workers and election officials understand these changes and adopt them?

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DeletedUser

A useful tool I used a lot at McKinsey was the Influence Model which helps frame activities in 4 buckets ("I will change my behavior if..."):
1) Understanding and commitment ("...I know what I need to change and I want to do it"): in our case this is about the heart and minds of the poll workers, so actions could be around a communications strategy; this is particularly important if we are challenging the status-quo as unless they believe in the the new system they are unlikely to change their behavior
2) Capability building ("...I have the skills to behave in a new way"): for us this could be training days, education videos, mentorship schemes for the poll workers, literature etc.
3) Role-modeling ("...I see my leaders behaving differently"): this is very powerful and often overlooked; an action here could be to work closely with poll station leaders to ensure that they act in a way that supports the new system e.g., they could man the 'want more time' line and show the other poll workers what a good service looks like. We could also move up the chain a little and get more senior people doing this - how about the head of the Electoral Commission running a part of the station and getting it televised so all the poll stations see it?
4) Aligned systems and structures ("...the systems reinforce the desired change"): this may be a little too corporate for us as this is often about targets and performance metrics etc., but there are some things that could work e.g., there have been inspirations and concepts about real-time performance of poll stations - these sorts of visual systems can be very powerful if designed appropriately.

Apologies for this length but it's quite an in depth topic. Happy to explore more if there is interest.

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Photo of Ashley Jablow

Terrific points Mark! I'd actually really encourage you to think about designing concepts that meet one, two or all of these buckets. It's fun to think about how each of these bullets could be ideas in their own right, and I bet the community would love to help you flesh them out!

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DeletedUser

Like the idea of managed queue control throughout the day. I had thought of this as well. Certainly you'd want more quick moving lines in the morning and from about 5pm until polls close. A lot of this depends on space. Some polling stations in more rural areas or smaller cities are quite small, with only 2 or 3 voting booths.

For the "Need More Time" line, you could add a separate booth or table outside of the queue with additional sample ballots and pens and explanatory materials for those who may need assistance voting due to disability. Again, thinking of an airport where space is given outside of the queue to fill out customs or immigration cards. The "Made Up My Mind" line should be spatially removed from this section of the polling place.

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Photo of Vincent Cheng

Brilliantly Simple...Simply Brilliant! The 2-line segmentation, explanatory signage, & privacy shields can certainly help everyone (both those who want to vote quickly, and those who would appreciate more time or help, regardless of reason), and relatively simple to explain/implement (vs. some of the other concepts)

Reminds me of airport segmentation such as for security (staff/frequent traveler vs. regular traveler vs. flagged risk) or customs (country citizens/residents vs. other countries' visitors).

Will need to think more on building on this brilliance =)

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DeletedUser

I like these ideas. I also feel the rush when voting in a polling place with a large line behind me - or lots of movement around me. The airport security line is hectic not only because you imagine all the people behind you in a hurry but also because of all the activity ahead of you. It's the visual chaos rather than the actual passing of time that gives one the impression the idea of needing to hurry up. The special curtain idea is a simple solution to make the whole voting process more private. Simple placement of the booths so that voters do not feel like someone is standing behind them would also make the process feel more comfortable and less rushed.

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DeletedUser

Glad to hear you like our concept Graham. We were excited that rethinking the queue would benefit all voters, not just those with accessibility needs.