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Saturday, May 5, 2007

Electronic Voting

I live in Wiltshire, in the Borough of Swindon, and so I was one of the people who got the chance to try the new electronic voting system at last Thursday's Council elections. I didn't vote beforehand, but opted to use the computer in the polling station - it was a horrifying experience.

  1. There were no instructions on the welcome page. I had to press a button labelled "Check Voter" which didn't mean anything but seemed to be the only option. I'm guessing that this was a validation process - the guy by the door also had a laptop, and I imagine that he confirmed each voter when that button was pressed.
  2. So why wasn't I told this? Initially I wondered if there was anything to stop me voting twice!
  3. No instructions on the actual voting page. I was presented with a list of candidates with links to their statements, however it looked like a simple list and there were no indication that I should do anything other than click the Next button - I didn't realise that there was a well-camouflaged button next to the candidates names that you could use to select them until I was asked to go back and choose.
  4. Confusing confirmation pages - it was not clear when I had finished, and whether my vote was counted. On one page the next button had scrolled off the bottom of the screen.
  5. It allowed me to select meaningless options - I was asked if I wanted to vote in parish election even though there was no such election - I was also asked if I wanted to read candidate's statements even though not all candidates had uploaded them. In both cases it wasn't until I selected the option that I was told that it wasn't valid.

I'm very pleased that at last we're getting e-voting. Although ironically some difficulties with the system actually meant that it took longer to count the e-votes than the paper ones. Despite the pig-ugly HCI the system also seemed reasonably robust, and at least I was able to go backwards and forewords and undo the mistakes that I had made.

But it's incredible that with all the expertise available the final product looks so ugly and crude - in all honesty it looked like a bad A'level project from the 1990's, adorned with basic VB-style elements in cumbersome form layouts. Just dreadful.

If a Computer Scientist found it confusing, just imagine what Grandma would say :-(

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