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Making Voting by Mail Usable, Accessible and Inclusive

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Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC,volume 500)


Two groups of voters have historically faced challenges in voting by mail: first, voters who are blind, have low vision, or low dexterity; and second, the many adult Americans who read at Basic or Below Basic levels as defined by the National Adult Literacy Survey. Although for different reasons, both groups can find it challenging to navigate the complicated process of receiving, marking, and mailing a paper ballot privately, independently, and successfully. This paper describes a two-pronged effort to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of the vote by mail process: (1) helping Maryland make their online ballot marking tool significantly more usable and accessible through iterative usability testing and evaluation in 2013; and (2) using iterative usability testing and evaluation to revise paper instructions and envelopes in vote-by-mail packages—identifying and applying best practices of plain language and plain interaction in order to forestall common mistakes and increase trust.


  • Voting
  • Absentee voting
  • Low literacy
  • Accessibility
  • Online ballot marking
  • Voting by mail

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    In 2003, nearly 30 % of all voters used “absentee” ballots [3]. In 2008, the Election Assistance Commission reported on nationwide voting practices, recording that 16.6 % of voters used absentee ballots—in comparison to 13.0 % who used various forms of early voting. Of these absentee ballots, 1.7 % were rejected nationwide, but two states, Indiana and North Carolina, rejected more than 10 % of their absentee ballots. Reasons included missing the deadline, lack of a valid signature, using an unsealed envelope, using an unofficial envelope, and not including a proper address [15].

  2. 2.

    The online ballot marking tool was successfully deployed in the Maryland 2014 General Election.

  3. 3.

    Detailed findings from this research are available in a report to the Maryland State Board of Elections that has been posted at the Maryland State Board of Elections website.


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Funding for this research was provided in part by the Maryland State Board of Elections and in part by the Center for Civic Design.

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Correspondence to Kathryn Summers .

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These are the questions about trust used in the paper ballot mailing process research, Round Three. Questions were rated from 1—strongly disagree to 5—strongly agree.

  • I felt like my information was safe with this voting process.

  • I felt confident that I did it the right way when I put the mailing package together.

  • I feel confident that my vote would arrive safely with this voting process.

  • I would like to vote by mail in an election using this process.

  • I feel confident that my vote would count in an election if I use this voting process.

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Summers, K., Quesenbery, W., Pointer, A. (2016). Making Voting by Mail Usable, Accessible and Inclusive. In: Di Bucchianico, G., Kercher, P. (eds) Advances in Design for Inclusion. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 500. Springer, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-41961-9

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