Ergonomics is a discipline that studies the design and arrangement of things in order that humans may be able to use them more efficiently, comfortably and safely. Known also as human engineering, ergonomics has found wide application in the design of furniture and equipment for homes, offices, factories and vehicles.
Recently, the science has also been applied to elections in the hopes of understanding what makes voters vote and how to enhancing voter experience. Electoral ergonomics as defined by pioneers Bruter and Harrison, is “the optimization of all relevant electoral procedures and mechanisms to provide the best possible electoral experience for voters.”
Research has revealed that seemingly inconsequential things such as where a vote is cast, what method is used, at what time polling stations open, how the ballot is designed, all matter greatly in shaping voters´ experience. Electoral ergonomics, although still in its infancy, may help us understand “who votes, how they vote, why they vote the way they do, and how they feel about it”.
Studying electoral ergonomics and its effects is one of the most scientifically complex tasks in the field of elections. It entails a complex and highly-nuanced interaction among psychological, technical, and sociocultural variables.
So far, electoral ergonomics has observed that voting is a highly emotional act that carries with it a lot of memories, pleasant and otherwise. Voters attach various positive and negative emotions to the act of voting.
Emotions are significantly more positive for people who go to vote in person as compared to those who use postal voting. They feel prouder, happier, and more excited about the vote than those who use postal voting. Moreover, voters in person also end up feeling more reassured and more relaxed than those who use postal voting.
More importantly, as can be gleaned from the 2010 British General election, it was determined that voters aged 18-25 were nearly twice more likely to choose an extremist party if voting by mailing their ballots than at a polling station. Among 25-45 year old voters, the likeliness to vote for the extreme right also increases by 24%. For the first time, the method of voting is being proven to have an effect on the choice of the voters.
Another interesting case study is one where advanced voting in polling stations was compared with mailed-in balloting , the two methods employed by the US to allow people who cannot go to vote on election day to participate in elections. Interestingly, it was revealed that voters who opted for advanced voting in polling centers perceived the elections to be more efficacious, trustworthy, and important as compared to those who selected mailed-in voting.
It may be deduced that the mere physical act of going to a voting center, hitherto not regarded as noteworthy, may be an important part of the voting experience, and may, in fact, influence the outcome of elections.
Electoral ergonomics is still in its infancy and much more research needs to be undertaken to validate assumptions. Yet initial findings are promising and may lead us to finally be able to tweak the many factors comprising an election to give the voter the best experience.