My #ausvotes 2016 experience – a trail of #UX fails

So, another three years has come around and it was time to choose between Biggie Smallstick and Burst Watermain. In Australia, voting is compulsory – you get fined by the Australian Electoral Commission if you don’t vote – and it would be reasonable to assume that because voting is mandatory, the processes to do so would be streamlined, simple and frictionless.

Hahahaha! Silly Australians. (props, Sammy J).

Firstly, you have to vote in person. While electronic voting has its detractors, this is 2016, and quite frankly, we should have figured it out by now. Maybe it would make referenda on things like equal marriage and becoming a republic too easy and less costly? Who knows. Maybe we need a strong and robust national broadband network to make it work. Whatever, you can’t currently vote online.

You can however do an early vote, in person or by post. This requires pre-registration, and there are rules around who can early vote. Sigh. Too hard. Just easier to nip across the two blocks to the Senior Citizens Centre, where I’ve voted dozens of times before, wait in line for a little while, get a #democracysausage, and even take the doggie for a walk.

Nope.

Even though I’ve voted at the local Senior Citizens Centre dozens of times before, it’s not actually a polling place for the 2016 Federal Election. So, after taking the doggie for walkies on our usual route, which passes by the Senior Citizens Centre, I was surprised to find no AEC signage or personnel there, and no party volunteers. “Perhaps it’s not a polling place this year” I wondered, “I’m sure they will have signposted it if that’s the case”.

Silly Kathy.

There was no signage around at all, and two other ladies walked up to the centre as well. We chatted, and they patted the doggie, and I used my mobile device (Nexus 5X, vanilla Android 6.01) to attempt to solve the problem.

My first approach these days is just to ask Google. So, using Google Now, I asked “Where can I vote today?”.  Google Now helpfully responded with this list of options.

Where can I vote today? Google Now results.
Where can I vote today? Google Now results.

Now, ‘nearest polling place’ sounds like pretty helpful information, right?

Silly Kathy.

Clicking this (sponsored) link took me to the AEC website, which had lots of information on voting types, and how to vote, but not the actual information I was looking for – where I could actually vote. At least it was responsive and showed up on a mobile phone. Not a high barrier, admittedly, but one that all to many websites fail on these days.

General information on voting, not the actual location of where I could vote
General information on voting, not the actual location of where I could vote
Hot tip: If you’re going to use sponsored Google Adwords, please for the love of all that is good in the world, make sure the URL goes to the specific, actual information that you’re promoting.

Also helpfully, Google Now had provided an Australian Federal Election tile. Could this help me, where the website of the government agency actually responsible for elections had not? Let’s find out!

Google Now tile for the Australian Federal Election 2016
Google Now tile for the Australian Federal Election 2016

First, I clicked on the tile. Props to Google Now for knowing that today was an election, and that I was geographically in Australia. So far, so good. Next, I had to search for the electorate I was in, which was a little clunky. I already share both Wi-Fi and GPS location data with Google Now, so from a UX viewpoint it would have been preferable to automatically show the information for the electorate that I was physically in first. But still, much better than the AEC experience.

Then, I had to scroll down a bit to find the actual location information. A handy skip link to locations would have been nice, but still, I could find the information I needed, in the context I needed it, without too much hassle.

Google Now screenshot of polling booth locations for the electorate of Corio, Victoria
Google Now screenshot of polling booth locations for the electorate of Corio, Victoria

For bonus points, the location information linked straight to Google Maps, and also pulled in data from Election Sausage Sizzle (aka Democracy Sausage). Glorious. Thank you, Google. AEC, take notes.

See the full Google election site at https://election.google.com.au

Once I got to my destination, the UX experience continued. There was a banner on the TAFE, where I was voting, but there were no sandwich boards on the pavement or other visual indicators. Really, you could have easily missed that it was a polling place.

Given that I had my doggie with me, there were also few places to securely leave him, and I was grateful for one of the party volunteers, who offered to mind him. He liked her, so I trusted her. Dogs are good judges of character.

The other observation here was that there were few facilities for people – particularly the elderly or less mobile, to sit down. I walked in with a lady who had a limp, and she was clearly in some pain. Somewhere to sit for her would have made it an easier experience.  Sadly, no Democracy Sausage or Democracy Cake, and they would have made a tidy profit – as it was cold and chilly.

The line to vote was thankfully short (I got there just on 0800rs as voting opened), and I waited about 3min 45 seconds to go in and vote (yes, I measured). Once I had my name checked off (painless, the chap had clearly done this several times, he found my name with military precision. He looked like a Menzies fan), there was light at the end of the tunnel. But then I saw it. A donkey voter’s delight.

IT WAS THE SENATE BALLOT PAPER FROM HELL

Measuring up at over a metre long, I couldn’t get this thing into the polling booth without folding it in half. Normally a below-the-line voter, there was no way I could wrestle with this. I admitted defeat, and dutifully pencilled in 1-6 above the line. The poor AEC election official had to stifle laughter as I attempted origami to fold the bloody thing six times to make it fit into the ballot box. No points, would not buy again.

The ballot paper experience actually changed the way I vote, and this is bad for democracy.

On a side note, the election booth actually contained a magnifying sheet for those hard of sight. Admittedly, it would take you an hour to read the Senate Ballot Paper From Hell with the magnifying sheet. But yes, I will concede half a point here for usability.

So, how was my voting experience, or #votex? It sucked. But it would have sucked more if I wasn’t able bodied, didn’t have an Android mobile phone and didn’t have a very clear idea of who I was voting for, enabling me to quickly go from below the line to above the line. If voting is mandatory, we have to make it easier for people. I’m digitally savvy. I’m able bodied. I’m politically astute. And this experience sucked for me. Dammit, I’m an election power user AND IT SUCKED. How on earth does Average Voter Joe feel about this process? No wonder people see their democratic rights as a chore and not a privilege. Australia, we’ve made exercising our democratic rights difficult, clumsy and off-putting.

Making #votex easier for citizens

So, how do we fix it?

  • Electronic voting – we need to find a way to do it reliably, securely, and in a way that all citizens can access
  • If your polling places change from year to year, find a way to let people know. Put a poster on the window of the Senior Citizens’ Centre! Let people set their preferred polling places, so that if their preferred polling place changes, you can notify them and direct them appropriately.
  • UX your website and if you have link that says ‘Click here to find out where to vote’, make sure you take the user to information that tells them where they can vote. It’s not rocket surgery.
  • Fix the senate. Or, failing that, design a ballot paper that isn’t twice the width of the ballot booth.
  • Real time queuing information. That could then be released as open data, so we can do predictive analytics on it for future years. Integrate this with the mobile app.

Democracy. Let’s make it suck less.

Beware – Domain Renewal Group scam domain name expiration notice

There was an interesting find in my letterbox today – a scam ‘Domain Name Expiration Notice’ from a company called Domain Renewal Group, seeking to have me renew one of my domains (wordpresschix.org) to them – for the bargain price of four times what it cost me originally!

This letter looks so authentic that less-savvy people could easily be fooled – in fact, unless you were really skilled in domains and registration, it would be difficult to pick it up as a scam;

Image of the scam domain name expiration notice

Because the domain is not in the .au namespace, auDA does not have any authority over the registrar. I emailed Public Interest Registry, the registrar for the .org TLD to let them know, and also let auDA know in case they wish to raise a consumer alert.

I also emailed Domain Renewal Group themselves, and threatened to report them to the ACCC (the enclosed self-addressed envelope – not reply paid! – has the address 189 Queen Street, Suite 209 Melbourne 3000 on it – so they obviously have an Australian base of operations) if they did not cease their operation;

To whom it may concern,

I recently received a letter addressed to me concerning the domain
WordPressChix.org

This letter constituted an unsolicited domain name expiration notice, and
is considered a scam. Because the namespace '.org' is not maintained by
auDA, the Australian domain authority, I have raised my concerns with the
Public Interest Registry (PIR), the official registrar for the .org TLD,
in writing.

I would like DROA to undertake the following:

1. A written apology via return email for your actions to me personally
2. A written undertaking via return email that you will cease these
operations in Australia no later than 14th March 2011

Failure to respond to this email with 14 (fourteen) days with the above
will result in a formal complaint being raised with the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission (www.accc.gov.au).

Please note I will also be using social media channels to inform other
Australian webmasters of your unethical tactics.

You may also wish to know that you're garnering a very unfavourable
reputation within Australia;
http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1040704

Regards,
Kathy Reid

Member, Linux Users of Victoria
Member, Linux Users of Australia
Board member, PHPWomen
@KathyReid on Twitter

We’ll see what happens! (to be continued…)

Weight bias in employment – and society in general

While doing research for my MBA (Computing), I stumbled across the below article on weight bias in employment, and found it fascinating. In summary, the research showed that obese people, in particularly fat women, experience significant discrimination in workplace settings, and from society in general. Obese women are less likely to earn higher salaries, and their partners, if they are able to attract one, are less likely to be highly paid.  However, rather than poverty contributing to obesity – through factors such as access to nutritious foods, education on healthy eating practices, and access to safe exercise programs – the paper puts forward the notion that obesity causes poverty – if you are fat, you are less likely to be earning a high salary.

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rothblum/doc_pdf/weight/WeightBiasinEmployment.pdf

My employment experiences have generally been very positive ones; I’ve chosen workplace cultures that value intellect over attractiveness and reward excellence in output rather than in application of makeup. While dressing smartly, I rarely wear makeup and don’t even own a pair of high heeled shoes. They don’t make them in a size 11D 🙂

Lately though the educational institution where I work is becoming ‘corporatised’ – with suits becoming more de rigeur. Slowly, our values are changing – with more weight (pun intended) being placed on image and presentation. So, although losing weight is a great health goal, should career advancement also be a motivator? Or am I just selling out to a culture that conflates being fat with being stupid and lazy? Clearly I’m neither – holding two degrees, well on my way to a third – and holding a significant workload both on the job and through extra-curricular activities.

What’s the best strategy for someone like me – that is, highly intelligent, well educated, but obese – and likely to remain so – even with significant weight loss – for the foreseeable future? As I see it, my options are;

  1. Accept the status quo but continue to invest in my career
  2. Accept the status quo but not invest in my career – as I may not get a return on that investment
  3. Lose weight (motivated for health reasons and personal drive)
  4. Lose weight (to look good, meet societal expectations and advance my career)

It’s a fascinating area. One of the concepts that’s been playing on my mind recently is around societal contribution. As an educated, gainfully employed member of society I contribute taxes, donate to charities and am generally a “good” citizen.

However as an obese citizen I’m denied many opportunities afforded others; social inclusion is more difficult, there are barriers to attracting a partner and starting a family, I’m taken less seriously in some professional situations and getting competent medical care is harder (viz the case when I presented with pneumonia and the first question from the GP was ‘how much do you weigh?’).

So why should I contribute as much to society when society doesn’t value me as much as the “hot chick”?