Design an intuitive, accessible voting experience for America's largest jurisdiction.
A modular voting system that addresses the system’s complexities and can adapt over time.
With nearly 5 million registered voters, Los Angeles County represents the largest voting jurisdiction in the United States. Guaranteeing every citizen the right to an accessible and intuitive voting experience has been the highest priority for the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office, which oversees the election process.
To revamp its antiquated voting system that dates back to the 1960s, LA County hired IDEO to design the concept, look, and feel of its next-generation replacement, a modular system that could adapt over time. And just as important, one that would be designed, developed, and owned by the county.
Working closely with LA County staff, IDEO designers created a voting system that addresses the complexities unique to that voter base, including its vastly diverse population and its myriad election laws and policies. It was imperative for designers to build a system that would be useful and accessible to all types of voters: those who are vision and hearing impaired, in wheelchairs, have learning disabilities, are unfamiliar with technology, speak languages other than English—voters of all ages and backgrounds.
Their goals: to create one device for equal access, to define a voting process that feels familiar to voters, balancing both emotional and functional needs, and to build a system that’s adaptable over time.
The resulting prototype, designed in collaboration with Digital Foundry and Cambridge Consultants, is a voting device that’s customizable for different user experiences. A touch screen allows any voter to easily navigate the ballot by advancing through different screens showing lists of candidates and ballot measures. For those with vision impairment or reading disabilities, an audio and controller experience guides voters through their options with a push of a few simple buttons. And voters who prefer to read the ballot in a different language—Spanish, Chinese, Korean, or any one of the 11 languages supported by the county—can choose their preference on the same machine. Once they’ve tapped in their selections on the device, they receive a printed paper ballot that goes into an integrated ballot box (the use of a traceable paper ballot is still mandated by law).
Just as we’re able to use our mobile devices to simplify our lives for everything from shopping online to fetching a taxi, the new prototype also allows voters to participate in the ultimate act of democracy with the same ease and accessibility. Voters can mark their votes on their cell phones when it’s convenient, then go to a polling station to transfer their selections from their phones to paper ballots, and cast their ballots in a ballot box.
It’s this convenience factor that officials hope will ultimately make the act of voting more meaningful. “As an election administrator, I can’t drive how exciting the candidates are or how controversial the measures are,” said Dean Logan, LA County’s Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk, whose vision has driven this project. “What I can do, though, is drive a voting experience that’s appealing and that makes you feel the actual weight of the significance of casting a ballot. To be able to go to any location that’s convenient to you, I think adds to that sense of intrinsic value to the voting process. It makes it feel like I’m participating in something that’s meaningful and important, that’s consistent with the way I do other things in my life.”
Once the bulk of the work was completed in June 2016, IDEO handed off designs to the county for execution. IDEO has continued to advise the county and its implementation partners on an as-needed basis to ensure the original intent of the designs—to create a deeply human-centered voter experience—are incorporated during the implementation phase. LA’s new voting system, which rolled out in 2020, has the potential to influence how other counties across the country update their outdated systems.
VIDEO: Democracy By Design, interviews with designers, researchers and Los Angeles County staff. Produced by the Los Angeles County Registrar/County Clerk.