Kevin Cheng  


April 16th, 2004 by Kevin Cheng :: see related comic

Election year is already upon the Americans. It seems like yesterday that I was standing in front of the capital in Austin, TX, gawking at all the Bush supporters. At the time, I had only recently moved and felt like I was watching playoff sports but had no team to root for. The game then proceeded into quintuple overtime and even the penalty shootout didn’t seem to settle who had won.Some of you may know that I’m a Canadian and as is the law there, I’m also a fan of ice hockey. Recently, ice hockey had a slight rule change. The goal nets in hockey games are not firmly attached so if a player were to plow in at high speeds, the net will dislodge itself rather than remove a limb from the skater. When a goal is scored, the goal must not have been dislodged for the goal to count. Sounds perfectly reasonable. However, there are various degrees to which the goal can be moved and initially, the rule stated that it could not even be raised a centimeter in order for the goal to count.

This rule has since been relaxed, but with little definition as to how much it has been relaxed. Thus, goals are now counted even if the net was dislodged slightly with “slight” being defined by the officials on hand.

My team lost last night because of one such decision.

In the 2000 elections, we learnt a new word: chad. The part of the voting ballot that is punched out … or partially punched out. Like the net in hockey, officials needed to decide whether a vote counted or not depending on how far the hole had been punched. Like hockey, the officials made decisions that had ramifications but these decisions happened to define the president of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Unlike hockey, a definitive correct answer exists – but only the person who voted on that ballot knows it.

To solve the chad problem, we’ve looked for a solution that won’t have any chads. Electronic voting machines have no chads. Or do they? Maybe there are no punch outs involved (unless there’s a very frustrated user) but the ambiguity still exists – it’s simply hidden better.

As HCI people, we learn early in our work how important feedback is to design. Feedback from the users and feedback from the system to the users. When it comes to voting, feedback is paramount. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about chads or touch screens. The user needs to know for certain that the person they want to vote for is indeed who the system records. Equally, the users need an avenue to easily give feedback on the system. Many voters who were confused by the Florida ballots either were too intimidated to report their issues or did not know where to go to do so. In this area, perhaps voting machines can improve the experience.

Pressing “help” on a screen with which they are already interacting may be easier and more discrete than asking for help from a person at the voting station. In addition, how often users require help, and when they do, could be tracked in order to improve the system.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what system of voting is used. What matters is communication – clear, unambiguous and accessible communication in both directions. These communication channels need not wait until the actual elections and with any luck, are being exercised in the design of voting systems old and new.

Now if only my hockey team can get some of the officials to side with them …

For more information, check out UPA’s excellent resource page on voting and usability. A lot of great articles are linked there from primers on the key problems to more in depth analyses.

5 Responses to “Usamajility!?”
Paul Reinheimer wrote:

Also being a Canadian, ‘Rollll up the Rrrrrrimmm’

Do deal with the partiall moved goal post, why not stick something breakable inside the post itself, somewhat attached to both the poll, and the post (imbedded in the ice), something akin to a chopstick. The method of attachment would allow for some extension up and down, and angle change, but too much would break the chopstick, and goals would cease to count. Though personally, I am all for moving back to the hard and firm rule, if its outta the ice, it doesn’t count.

SteveM wrote:

I used to watch a lot of hockey in the British league (before they went all “professional” and hired loads of retired NHL players and eastern Europeans instead of the local guys)
I always thought there was a problem with the keeper “accidentally” falling against the goal to move it so the goal wouldn’t stand. I rule like this would’ve probably helped. Or maybe referees with the nerve to give proper penalties instead of just disallowing the goal with the occasional 2 minutes.
Hmm. Off topic enough yet?

Bob Salmon wrote:

To bring in a previous “what can we learn from computer games? thread” and also the “how do we increase voter turn out?” question: why not give the electronic voting machines a Doom-like user interface? Lots of pictures of the various candidates pop up and you shoot the ones you don’t like, in the classic shoot-the-terrorists-free-the-hostages style. It would let those completely disaffected go postal in a bloodless way, I suppose.

Maybe, if you had a single transferable vote electoral system, you could use a Minority Report style interface where you shuffle pictures of the candidates into order of preference.

Untapped market here?

jmalm wrote:

Since the mid-80’s nets in the NHL have been moveable. It used to be they were attached by magnets lodged into the ice surface. This lead to constant stoppages as players, realising that no injury would occur by plowing full tilt into the post, ran into the nets to keep the goalies off their game.
About a decade ago they changed the mounting of the nets to be 6 inch plastic pegs that will allow the net to be dislodged given a hard enough jar, but only after a reasonable thresshold of pain is applied to the charging player. A player on Kevin’s favourite team had a 2 inch gash on his forehead from crasing into the net in a recent game. In the words of Lord Vader, he “will not be permanently damaged”
Bringing this back to voting, maybe imposing similar physical penalties on voters that do not heed the rules of the game might solve this Chad guy’s problem.

Tom Chi wrote:

This thread ended up being about hockey, but elsewhere the electronic voting debate heated up:,2645,63191,00.html/wn_ascii

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?