What do voters most want to know from election webs and brochures?

? How do I register? How do I vote absentee? How do I vote?  The answer might surprise you.

Usage experts have surveyed the real experts – voters – to see what they want in election office brochures. The most desired information matched the result from their study last year of what information voters most desired from election office web sites.

What makes elections information helpful to voters? <read>

Whitney Quesenbery for Civic Designing

Every election department (and many advocacy groups) create flyers and small booklets to help voters learn about elections. But when we looked for guidelines for good communication with voters, we found very little. There were some political science and social psychology experiments that measured the impact of get-out-the-vote campaigns, but there was little about what questions voters have, and how to answer those questions well.

As a companion to the research on county election websites, we did a study of how new voters used election information booklets.

We recruited people who had voted for the first time in the 2008 election or later. Our participants were young people, recently naturalized citizens, and people with lower literacy. As new voters, we hoped that they would remember their first experiences clearly and would still have questions about elections.

We worked with a selection of voter education materials that we thought were pretty good: clearly written, attractively designed, with good information…

We asked our participants to choose two of them to read, marking any sections they thought were particularly good or particularly confusing. And then we talked about what they read.

They had many of the same questions as the participants in the web site study:

  • what’s on the ballot
  • where do I go vote
  • how do I get an absentee ballot

Many other questions were about the basic mechanics of voting, from eligibility and ID requirements, to finding their polling place, to the details of how to mark their ballot.

An ideal guide helps voters plan and act

When we sorted out all the data, we weren’t surprised to find that the overriding concern was being able to act on the information. That fits the definition of plain language: information voters can find, understand, and use.

These less experienced voters wanted specific instructions that would let them vote with confidence. For example, they weren’t sure how long your voter registration “lasts” or even that they might have options for voting, not only on Election Day, but in early voting or by mail. They liked the confirmation and reassurance of seeing information they already knew…

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