Concept: Voter Assistants

Supporting remote voting:

A rich support system extending current use of social networking

Presentation poster for the Voter Assistance concept

About this concept

The text that follows describes the concept presentation poster

This poster is a diagram of how a voter connects to a community of certified voter assistants through social networking.

  • Voters request their ballot by mail, phone or the web. When verified, they receive the ballot. (See the Rich Ballot Experience concept.)
  • But, the voters might have questions.. How..? What…? Where…?
  • For answers, 24/7, they reach out to a community of Certified Volunteer Help Providers.
  • Who can provide support via social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and so on.


(The text describing how universal design principles apply to this concept is not readable in this image. It will be added when transcribed from a better copy.)


Additional materials for this concept

An early concept sketch

(see text below)

An early concept sketch for the Voter Assistants

This sketch shows the relationships between voters, the election department and the Voter Assistants.

This is an official channel, augmenting the election department staff. The department recruits, trains, mentors, and recognizes the volunteers. The department staff also monitors their work and is available to answer questions escalated to them because the volunteers do not know the answers.

The Voter Assistant volunteers might be anyone interested. They could be peer-counselors with a disability, people generally interested in elections, or people from an advocacy community.  There might be leaders or mentors – volunteers with more experience, who can help with questions escalated to them.

The volunteers are rewarded with recognition, expertise, the satisfaction of working for the general good, or as part of a civic organization.

Voters use a variety of social media to ask questions, pushing them out into the channels.

There is a 911 equivalent to identify them – perhaps the hashtag  #777 on Twitter, but also 777 as an SMS address or even a phone number. There could also be an API to the Voter Information Project.

This could be run at the state level, but would be more effective at the county level, because volunteers would know the community and would be voting on the same ballot.

Affinity groups add depth to the network

Volunteers can connect a voter/caller with a specific need to a peer affinity group who can answer questions.

Advocacy and support community groups could provide backup to the general group of assistants, contributing their specialized knowledge of assistive technology or other accessibility needs. This could be particularly important for voters using AT, as this is a specialized body of knowledge and there are often hard-to-diagnose interactions between any web site or software and AT.

Assistants could also help at the polling place

Diagram, explained below

Because they have specialized knowledge, the Voter Assistants can also help at the polling place, easing the demand on the poll worker.  If a voter had a question the poll worker could not answer, the Assistants could be contacted through a smartphone or tablet, connecting them to the voter. Or a voter could contact the Voter Assistants directly, in the same way.

Voter Assistants would be certified

Certification would be through online material, but could also be offered in person.  It would include:

  • Basic training in how to find answers to questions in the election department web site.
  • Volunteers would be told to look everything up, rather than try to remember details and possibly get them wrong — “Use recognition, not recall”
  • They would also learn the boundaries. Their focus is election information, not partisan discussion or advice on how to voter, for example. The training might include role-playing on how to politely “deflect” a question out of the boundaries.
Examples of similar training, include certified peer-assistance counselors for independent living and training on how to work with human subjects in research (such as the online course offered by the National Institutes of Health).
There would not be a ‘pass-fail’ test, but new volunteers would be encouraged to keep trying until they complete enough questions to pass.

Call-ahead voting

Diagram of the concept, with volunteers linking the voters and polling locations

Voter Assistants can also be used to alert poll workers when and where voters plan to vote. This might help solve some of the problems of voters arriving and finding that the voting system is not ready for them, or allow voters to ask about times when polling places are not as busy.

Voter Assistants in Bexar County, Texas

Jacqualyn F. Callanen, Elections Administrator in Bexas County, Texas was a participant in the workshop. She described a system that she developed for voter assistance.

Voters may request assistance at the poll, if they need it. In small polling places, the poll workers are often the neighbors of the voters, so by asking for assistance marking the ballot, a blind voter is not just giving up independence, but privacy as well.

Instead of using people in the polling place, they have a staff person at the election department ready to assist.

  • The poll worker calls the staff voter assistant on the phone.
  • She says that there is a voter who needs assistance, and confirms that they are registered to vote and which ballot they will use.
  • The poll worker does not identify the voter to the voter assistant, so the voter remains anonymous.
  • The assistant reads the ballot to the voter, providing a way to indicate their choice without saying a candidate name out loud.
  • The assistant marks the ballot according to the voter’s instructions.
  • When the ballot is marked, the assistant reviews it with the voter.
  • If the voter is satisfied with the review, the assistant casts the ballot.
  • The poll worker and the assistant both make notations to account for the location of the ballot.


This concept was created at the Accessible Elections Design Workshop in February 2012