Democracy During Pandemic

As the coronavirus hits heavy in the United States, 20 states have not yet held primary elections. In order to continue with the election process, voting will have to be drastically reconsidered with special attention to preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still being as democratic and accessible as possible.

This project includes a set of proposals addressing issues around voting in an election during a global pandemic and improving overall access to the voting system, which was already critically failing many communities even before the outbreak of coronavirus. The three proposed concepts each address a different set of problems regarding voting in uncertain times.

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Project Background
Summary
Don't feel like reading? Watch my presentation of Democracy During Pandemic...
Three concepts devised to address various potential issues with voting during the pandemic.
Click to Skip to Concept Details
01
Improve Vote By Mail

Solves For...

  • Preventing the Spread of the virus through distancing.​
  • Simple voting package with all tools needed to complete.
02
Online Voting Platform

Solves For...

  • Ballots are directly recorded with immediate feedback.​
  • Ballots are controlled with no risk of being lost in the mail.
03
Voting Booth Distancing

Solves For...

  • Ballots are controlled with no risk of being lost in the mail.​
  • Physical collection protects from cyber threats or system malfunction.
The Problem
According to the Associated press, 55% of citizens voted in 2016. Voting is a strong force for political change, but most of all voting is a citizen’s right. Based on my research the existing voting system in place makes voting a privilege. There are many reasons for the lack of voter participation...
  • Not a single American is automatically registered to vote. Voting registration deadlines are notoriously confusing, some states do not even allow voter registration online.
  • The media doesn’t clearly state the policies for each candidate. In order to make informed voting decisions, a citizen must do independent research.
  • United States voting is on a Tuesday in November. 7.8 million Americans work two jobs. Working conditions make people less likely to make it to the polls.
  • Citizens must be prepared to provide voter identification. Directions to mark the ballot require a certain level of knowledge. Citizens with a language barrier and motor abilities are compromised with having assistance or a translator.
  • The results are broadcasted on news outlets which require time to watch. Additionally, many voters never see the impact of their own ballot cast.
How Others
Do It
Looking at other democratic nations and how they handle voting.

Argentina

At designated polling places, each citizen chooses an individual ballot paper for the candidate they want to vote for, inserts it into an envelope, signs, and drops it into the designated box. Due to corruption, political parties have switched ballot papers of opposing candidates with counterfeit ones to disqualify votes against them.

Canada

The Canadian ballot requires one to mark an X within the circle corresponding to the candidate, fold, and drop into the ballot box. Ballots are counted by hand live in front of all candidates.

Gambia

Nearly 50% on the Gambian population is illiterate. To account for this, the citizens are required to drop a marble into the metal drum depicting the candidate of their preference. This form of voting has been used in Gambia for over 50 years.

India

India has been using electronic machines for 20 years. The machine can present a maximum of 64 candidates. Once a voter presses the corresponding button for a candidate, the vote is cast and the machine resets.

Japan

The voting rate is low in Japan. Citizens write down the name of the party and candidate within a simple box and cast the ballot. The ballot is made from special paper to ensure it is not damaged or counterfeit. The paper also unfolds itself once removed for counting.

United Kingdom

The ballot presents the list of candidates with a corresponding icon to indicate the affiliated party. In June 2019, a ballot with two options was presented to exit or remain in the European Union.

Co-Creation Session

Concept Generation through Democratic Design

As a form of ideation, I distributed surveys in Pratt Institute’s student union gathering concepts to improve the voting system from a diverse set of perspectives (with the resources available). I condensed the ideas into directions.
Proposals:
Introduce COVID-19
As the coronavirus hits heavy in the United States amidst the primary election with the presidential election approaching, I shifted my project to focus on the voting system with respect to physical distancing. According to the Associated Press as of April 7th, 24 states have not yet had primary elections. 15 of these states have already postponed the election date. In order to continue with the election process, voting will have to be rethought with a conscious effort to be able to cast ballots while preventing COVID-19 from spreading.
The objective is to provide a safe and rewarding voting experience during the pandemic and into the future. My focus is high-density environments, specifically cities, due to the lack of space available for distancing. The strategies used to measure the success of a solution are Remove Physical Density, Maintain Ballot Security, and Limit Barriers to Entry.
01
Improve Vote By Mail
The existing vote by mail system follows a strict request process with rigid deadlines for the request and return of the absentee ballot. Additionally, the ballot is much like an exam Scantron and generally tailored for those with higher education.

Concept 01 aims to simplify the physical ballot, the request process, and the steps to cast and return the ballot.

1

Package

Contains all necessary elements to complete  the ballot.

2

Instructions

Outline the steps needed to complete the ballot.

3

Ballot

Displays candidates through visuals, color, and language.

4

Markers

Pen and Stamp provided in the package. To mark ballot simply stamp the candidate.

5

Take Away

The cherished voting sticker is still included even when voting from home.

6

Return Envelope

Pre-addressed as to be easily sent back and counted.

1

Scanning Information

for ballot security and to ensure each ballot is counted once

2

Step Indicator

displayed on the left hand side so filling out the ballot is easy to follow

3

Perforations

allow the voter verification to be removed from the ballot and anonymize during counting

4

Adhesive

self seals the ballot keeping it secure during the receiving process

5

Candidate Markers

provide visuals and language and are simply stamped in the circle to make selections.

6

Fold Indicator

clearly displays where to fold and seal

02
Online Voting Platform
Due to a massive percentage of the population voting by mail during the pandemic, there are potential logistical concerns. The existing United States mail system in place is not designed to handle the number of ballots in the time frame for an exclusive vote by mail election.

Concept 02 provides an alternative remote voting solution using online voting to reduce the ballots being transferred in the mail system.

17% of the Absentee Ballots requested in the Wisconsin primary were not returned as cast ballots. Ballots were either never received by the voter, never returned to be counted, or lost somewhere in between.
03
Online Voting Platform
With increasing fear of cybersecurity after the 2016 Presidential Election, an online voting platform could potentially be at risk of an internet attack. While voting by mail provides ballot security, the mail system may be overloaded during the pandemic.

Concept 03 provides another voting solution to collect physical ballots in designated booths dispersed within a polling area.

Many are concerned with whether their ballot may be compromised through hacking. A study conducted with the Washington Post looked at if it is possible the 2016 presidential election results may have been impacted by a cyber threat. Through studying statistics from Wisconsin, the journalists noted that tests did not uncover any suspicious activity. However, the variety of techniques used to vote (pictured above) make it very difficult to trace individual votes and determine how they were cast making it challenging to accurately record and analyze.

1

Receive

After completing the ballot online, digital encryption is sent to a mobile device or printed. The website provides the booth locations and availability to print the digital encryption.

2

Scan

When arriving at the booth, scan the digital encryption
or
If you didn’t fill out the ballot prior, scan your voter ID to fill out the ballot.

3

Interface

Follow the automated instruction to process the ballot.

4

Printed Ballot

The ballot is printed and take away pen is dispensed.

5

Confirm Selections

Verify selections made, sign to approve, and seal by folding.

6

Insert Finished Ballot

Feed finished ballot into the machine. the booth will verify it is complete.

1

Indicator

A light above the booth indicates if it is being used.

2

Power

Solar Panels provide the booth with electricity.

3

Interface

Use speech or touch to easily navigate.

4

Analog

To prevent voter fraud, the final ballot is printed, verified, and manually submitted.

5

Identifier

Scanner can identify the voter and/or ballot to be processed.

6

Submitter

The feeder, much like a bill acceptor, only accepts completed ballots.

Reflection
Going forward, I see an opportunity to implement these various concepts to empower voters to have a voice during this trying time. Providing access to the voting system during quarantine and distancing is essential to maintaining a democratic government and demonstrate hope for the future. Voting for leaders is now more critical than ever to determine which policies will be implemented and thus put the nation on a path to overcome the pandemic, provide relief for suffering citizens, and protect the country in the coming years. ​The project transition with the introduction of COVID-19 challenged my design process and forced me to gather from what I have learned from my education and focus on a truly urgent issue with the limited resources I have working remotely. Although the physical manifestation of my concepts was limited, my agile reaction to the results of the coronavirus provided the opportunity to generate an outcome that is more timely and necessary than I initially expected.
Back to Work

Thank you for your time!