Recommendations for electronic voting system usability

The following recommendations are for use in the following:

  • Interface Design
  • User Studies

While studies in the literature focus on a variety of e-voting systems, including voting machines and punch cards, the recommendations here are for Internet-based and cryptographically-verifiable voting systems. For more detailed findings, further information on the literature surveyed and accompanying citations, and future research directions, refer to Olembo and Volkamer (2013).

E-Voting System Interface Design

In this section, we present recommendations for the design of e-voting interfaces.

Ballot/Interface Design

R-ID-BD-1: Ballot design should be standardized making ballots familiar to voters, for example, imitating paper ballot design on the e-voting system interface.

R-ID-BD-2:  The interface should indicate to voters when their vote has been successfully cast and if the vote casting process has been completed.

R-ID-BD-3: The interface should alert voters if their vote is invalid due to few or too many candidate selections on the ballot.

R-ID-BD-4: The interface should use the bubble ballot design where the ballots and candidate listing supports it.

Simple and Clear Ballot Instructions

R-ID-BI-1: Use simple and clear instructions for ballot. 

Review/Confirmation Screens

R-ID-RS-1: Integrate review screens to allow voters to check their candidate selections before submitting the vote.

R-ID-RS-2: Instruct voters to pay attention to the review screen.

R-ID-RS-3: Draw voters’ attention to the review screen using techniques such as additional coloring or highlighting.

Voting Tasks: Time, Speed and Effort

R-ID-TS-1: Reduce the amount of time and effort that voters need to take in order to cast their vote.

R-ID-TS-2: Allow sequential access rather than direct access through the ballot to minimize voter error.

Providing Help Features

R-ID-HF-1: Integrate help features in the voting interfaces, e.g., screen tips.

R-ID-HF-2: Provide help just in time when voters need it.

R-ID-HF-3: Have a help link on every web page for Internet voting.

R-ID-HF-4: Have a help link next to tasks that are likely to be confusing for voters.

Cryptographically-Verifiable Voting

Here we combine findings in the literature that are useful for interface design of cryptographically-verifiable voting systems. We focus on Internet voting systems. In these situations, the voters’ mental model needs to be identified. Voter education is necessary and should take into account the mental model. Effective education should positively influence voters’ understanding of how cryptographically-verifiable schemes operate.

Identifying Mental Models

R-ID-CV-MM-1: Identify the voters’ mental model for new e-voting technology.

Educating Voters

R-ID-CV-ED-1: Educate voters on verifiability and cryptographic verifiability.

R-ID-CV-ED-2: Take into account the voters’ mental model regarding e-voting when educating voters.

R-ID-CV-ED-3: Utilize a variety of techniques e.g. video, handouts, to educate voters, considering the diversity in terms of age, experience with voting, and education level.

Voter Understanding of Cryptographically-Verifiable Voting

R-ID-CV-1: Give voters clear instructions on how to verify their votes.

R-ID-CV-2: Integrate help features taking into account the different types of voters, ranging from first-time voters, to frequent voters.

User Studies

Our recommendations in this section focus on carrying out user studies (both lab studies and field studies) to evaluate the usability of e-voting systems.

Relevant Methodology

R-US-RM-1: Begin by evaluating the interfaces or e-voting system with experts. Changes can be made to the e-voting aspect under study based on the feedback received. A pilot study should precede the lab study which is then carried out. Based on feedback from participants after the user study, the e-voting should be re-designed. The re-design should be tested in subsequent user studies, and several iterations at this stage may be necessary, switching between re-design and small user studies for user feedback. Field studies should be carried out, testing the re-designed e-voting system in a real election with real voters. Exit polls should accompany the field studies, to obtain voters’ feedback on the e-voting system, and related aspects being studied.

Ecological Validity

R-US-EV-1: Use real ballots, where possible, based on the names of the candidates listed, the design of the ballot, or the number of races provided.

R-US-EV-2: Use a voting environment similar to that in a real election, for example in Internet voting, set up the study in the participants’ own environment, or have participants use their own computers.

R-US-EV-3: Give voters tasks similar to tasks in a real election.

R-US-EV-4: Run an election for which participants are likely to be interested in the results, for example, a charities’ election. 

Maintaining Vote Secrecy

R-US-VS-1: Preserve vote secrecy in the user study, or inform participants when it will not be preserved.

Metrics for User Studies

R-UC-MUE-1: Adopt a standardized approach to evaluate usability, for example, the three ISO measures of effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction.

General Recommendations

R-US-GR-1: Offer financial or in-kind incentives to participants in user studies.

R-US-GR-2: Studies should have, as a minimum, 15 – 20 participants, depending on the goals of the study.

R-US-GR-3: Field studies should have a large number of participants (minimum 100 participants).

R-US-GR-4: Provide participants with both written and verbal instructions on what tasks they are to carry out in the user study.

R-US-GR-5: Do not violate ethical requirements in designing user studies. Additionally, report how ethical requirements have been met.

R-US-GR-6: Inform participants about the goals of the study either before or after the study.

R-US-GR-7: Obtain participants’ consent before they take part in user studies.

R-US-GR-8: Use fully developed and tested equipment in user studies to avoid errors.


E-Voting System Usability: Lessons for Interface Design, User Studies, and Usability Criteria
Maina M. Olembo and Melanie Volkamer
In: Saqib Saeed and Christopher G. Reddick , chap. 11, p. 172 - 201, IGI Global, February 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4666-3640-8.

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