Finnish Voting Machines Slated by Usability Experts

The U.S. isn't the only country where electronic voting machines are causing problems. Usability experts have some harsh words about Finnish voting machines, which where trialed in municipal elections on Sunday and caused about 200 lost votes.

Voters had trouble using the touchscreen-based voting terminal, according to the Finnish Justice Department. Out of 12,234 voters, 232 didn't finish the voting process properly, resulting in their votes not being cast.

The Finnish terminal required voters to first insert a smart card for identification, type in a candidate number, then press the "OK" button, check the candidate details on the following page, then press "OK" a second time to validate the vote, and remove the smart card. But the voters who failed didn't go through the whole process, according to the Finnish Justice Department.

The decision by the designers to use two different pages, for first casting the vote and then validating it, is blamed for the problems by usability experts.

When the voter is in the voting booth, and in a hurry, he or she can believe that the voting is done when the "OK" button has been pressed for the first time, because of how the system was designed, according to Jeanin Day, interaction architect at Antrop.

Teresa Colombi, CTO of ergonomics consultancy LudoTIC, agrees. "The system lacks guidance, one of the qualities necessary to ensure usability," she said.

A specific message, after the voter has clicked on the "OK" button the first time, could tell the voter that their vote is being processed and that they must wait until the following step before removing their card, according to Colombi. That could prevent the user from leaving the voting booth before the vote is cast.

But that isn't the only problem: The "OK" button also moves from right to left between the two pages. Moving buttons that do the same thing is a big no-no when designing user interfaces, according to Zayera Khan, design strategist at inUse.

"There is a lot that has to be improved before the system can be used on a larger scale," said Khan.

In Finland the Justice Department has started an inquiry into what happened, but it's too soon to draw any solid conclusions, according to election official Arto Jääskeläinen.

Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) argues that the election should be re-run in the affected municipalities. For that to happen the results will have to be appealed by someone in the municipalities affected by the lost votes, but Tapani Tarvainen, chairman at EFFI, is convinced that will happen, and then it will be up to the courts.

The machines were made by Helsinki-based TietoEnator, which wasn't immediately available for comment.

In the U.S., electronic voting machines have been controversial, generating usability and technical complaints in various elections in recent years.

This month, a handful of early West Virginia voters in the upcoming U.S. election complained that electronic voting machines switched their votes.

Voters in Putnam County and in neighboring Jackson County told the Charleston Gazette that e-voting machines from Election Systems & Software (ES&S) had switched their votes from a Democratic to a Republican candidate during recent early voting.

County election officials said they couldn't replicate the problems, and the voters were eventually able to vote for the candidates they wanted.

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