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electionlineWeekly — January 22, 2015

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I. In Focus This Week

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Seminole County, Florida uses comment cards to help process

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Editor’s Note: This week we’ll begin a series of stories on research local elections officials are doing to help improve the process for voters, poll workers and elections staff.

Seminole County, Florida Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel knows a lot about elections, but every year, after each election the county conducts, he learns a little bit more.

Some of what he learns comes from his own experiences and those of his staff and his “volunteer” poll workers, but some of that gained knowledge also comes from thousands of comment cards the county distributes to voters for feedback on their experiences.

The county first began distributing the comment cards during the 2006 primary election to get more feedback about what happens at the polls on Election Day.

“I specifically wanted to know how voters felt about the physical make up of the polling sites,” explained Ertel.

Since then the comment cards have been distributed at every election to every voter just like our beloved “I Voted” stickers.

“Our voters love them!” Ertel said. “Remember, they have just gone into the polls to let their feelings be known and state their choices for elected office, they love they get the chance to also let their feelings be known about the process itself.”

The county compiles statistics from the comment cards and creates a Voter Experience Report that officials then use to make adjustments to future elections processes.

“[The report} takes all of our comment cards from the polls and uses the data garnered to improve the process,” Ertel said. “We also used the cards to create an instant buzz among our electorate by asking them to tweet their voting experience real-time using the hashtag #VoteSeminole.”

The county has been able to learn a lot for a relatively small amount of effort and more importantly, a small amount of money, which Ertel said is why this is something other jurisdictions, no matter their size, could easily replicate.

“The benefits of soliciting feedback far outweigh the cost, which is minimal, considering the data gathered,” Ertel said.

For example, in the past, the county used the comment cards to discern how many voters called poll workers “volunteers.”

“After the first notice of that, we modified our marketing for poll workers to step down on the civic duty aspect and remind people poll workers get paid,” Ertel said. “The next comment card report showed a 50 percent reduction in the of the word ‘volunteers’ relating to poll workers.”

The county has also learned about the level of friendliness of its poll workers. If Ertel receives several complaints about a specific poll worker or process, they look into it.

The big study from the 2014 election was on line length and ballpoint pens. Ertel said after analyzing the comment cards they noticed voters commenting that ballpoint pens took longer to use than the old felt-tip pens.

“So I did a focus group to test how much longer it took,” Ertel said.

The county had 16 poll workers and staff fill in one bubble on a sample ballot from the past election using ballpoint pens and then do the same with felt-tip pens. It took them an average of 1:48 to fill in the bubbles using the ballpoint pen and 1:06 using the felt-tip pens.

Ertel figures that by switching back to the felt-tip pens, the county will decrease the amount of time each voter spends in the booth filling in the bubbles by about 40 percent.

“This will, in turn mean they spend less time in the polling room, which will decrease the length of the lines waiting for a voting booth, which will increase turnout overall, as shorter lines increase voter turnout,” Ertel said. “So, this trickle-down time saver of using felt-tip pens will increase voter turnout.” 

Of course the comment cards aren’t always constructive to the learning process. Sometimes they are just nice. And as with anonymous comments in any form, sometimes they are just not nice. But whether naughty or nice, Ertel said the comment cards have been invaluable to improving the process in Seminole.