The Challenge


How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone? read the brief


Mark anywhere

Make it easy for voters to mark their ballot anywhere, then bring them to the polling place to cast them. Why not make it easy to get a copy of the ballot and mark it anywhere (in any method), then come to the polling place to cast the ballot

This concept also brings together threads from several different inspirations and concepts.

A lot of current ideas about elections are based on getting your ballot at the polling place and marking it there. What if we changed that one thing? Voters would be able to get their ballot on paper or in electronic form, in advance, and mark it in a way that is accessible and comfortable for them. This is no different than the way it is often possible to get a copy of a sample ballot to prepare, but in this concept, that would be a ballot that can be used to mark your choices, similar to the way tax forms are available in many places.

Voting happens in three steps:

1. Receive and mark your ballot anywhere

Voters can receive a ballot to mark in several ways. They do not need any identification, except their address (so that they get the correct ballot). The ways to receive a ballot include

  • Paper ballots available by mail, or at public places like libraries, post office, or banks, or by requesting it by phone.
  • Electronic ballots that can be marked on a computer or mobile device, received by email, from the web, etc.
  • Voters could also come to the polling place, and mark their ballot there.

2. Sign in at the polling place

At the polling place, voters sign in as usual. They are checked against the voter registration database, which is marked so that they can only vote once.

3. Scan, verify, and cast the ballot

The voters already have their ballot ready to scan. The scanners can read a hand-marked ballot, or a QR code printed by the electronic device.

The scanner displays a summary list of the candidates or other ballot choices for the voter to confirm. This display is in large print, or audio.

  • If the voter is satisfied that the choices are accurate, a list of the verified choices is printed, the ballot counted, and the vote cast.
  • If the voter does not agree with the review, he or she can cancel, and get another ballot to try again.

In most cases, scanning will be fast, making queues shorter.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?
Each voter can mark the ballot in the way they prefer. If they choose to use a computer, they can use their own system, already set up for their needs. Voters can also come to the polling place to mark their ballot. This is all done before getting in line to cast their ballots. The lines will be faster, because only one step must be done after signing in. All of the ballots look the same once cast - just a record of the choices, rather than all of the options - no matter how they were marked. references are likely to change over time. Because this assumes many ways to mark a ballot, it if flexible. It also means that the systems used to mark ballots at the polling place can be simpler - no different than any personal computer or tablet. They can be equipped with several assistive technology options like easy to read keyboards, trackballs, and audio output. This makes them easier to set up, and less expensive.
How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?
Preferences are likely to change over time. Because this assumes many ways to mark a ballot, it if flexible. It also means that the systems used to mark ballots at the polling place can be simpler - no different than any personal computer or tablet. They can be equipped with several assistive technology options like easy to read keyboards, trackballs, and audio output. This makes them easier to set up, and less expensive. It also fits with Paul's Disperse the Queue concept and the IDEO Palo Alto Rethink the Queue concept by separating marking the ballot from casting it
What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?
This small change is a pretty big shift in how ballots are handled and polling places are organized. It will need to be refined in partnership with election officials.
My Virtual Team
This concept was developed at an accessible election design workshop run by the ITIF Accessible Voting Technology Initiative and CATEA - - along with many inspirations on OpenIDEO. It builds on concepts and comments by Paul Reader, Ashley and the Palo Alto team, and several others.


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Edmund Ng

November 21, 2013, 13:53PM
I'm a big fan of automation but I'm just skeptical because there are too may vote rigging incidents. It will be great if the voter could assess a online tallying system where voters can check if the votes cast are similar to the ones they have voted for.

This would definitely help reduce fraud and the authorities would think twice about rigging votes. However, I doubt they would fork out the additional money to put in these systems as I have the impression that the incumbent will always do whatever they can to stay in power. Why help their competitors get in.

Edmund Ng

Patricio M. Hidalgo

March 21, 2012, 16:35PM
Whitney, I think you have remarkably addressed: Speed, Tempo, and Accuracy building your concept. Congratulations!

Michael Gauthier

March 21, 2012, 02:42AM
What a great way to take advantage of the technology we have now to improve the way we vote on a massive scale!

Jake McGill

March 16, 2012, 14:21PM
I like this idea a lot but wouldn't this make it easier to make counterfeit ballots? Registering online poses many risks. But this is a great idea nonetheless I also hope this goes through.

Michael Gauthier

March 21, 2012, 02:43AM
I thought the same thing, but I think she is referring to just casting your vote to print, then turning it in to a registered voting area. That way there is really no way to counterfeit.

Paul Reader

March 21, 2012, 03:43AM
Correct Michael - how, when and where the ballot is prepared doesn't really matter as long as it becomes acceptable (machine readable) to cast once you have established your entitlement to cast it. It basically shifts the voter validation process to after you have prepared your ballot.

But it does more than this too. If preparation of the ballot is made virtual (rather than on paper) the printed ballot for casting only requires the voters actual choices. I proposed a bus ticket size ballot for casting (which was a bit extreme) but the potential is there to cut the printed ballot down to perhaps half letter size with something like a machine readable QR code of the voters choices and a human readable version on the same sheet.
Then the casting machine would only have to display the choices and allow the voter to confirm and cast the vote.

The Mark Anywhere concept opens up a great variety of possibilities.

Vote 1 - Mark Anywhere


March 16, 2012, 14:14PM
Convenient and simple. Hope this goes through.


March 15, 2012, 20:59PM
Congrats on this post joining our Top 20 shortlist! We were excited to see how this concept brings new flexibility and adaptability to the voting experience.

During this Refinement phase, let's think about the initial steps we'd need to take to bring this idea to life – for instance, what would we want to do first, second or third to start implementing it? What partners might we need to get things moving, and how might we get them onboard? For more information on specific ways to iterate and update your concept, check and

Priyanka Kodikal

March 11, 2012, 22:16PM
Great concept Whitney! I love how inclusive it is.


March 11, 2012, 20:49PM
Congrats on this post being today's onsite Featured Concept!

Dean Logan

March 07, 2012, 05:49AM
At the ITIF workshop an example of something similar to this idea was highlighted in the discussion for illustrative purposes. The concept is similar in nature to the units available at Drug Stores where you can print and order copies of digital photos. The customer (i.e. voter) can provide the input in a variety of ways (USB, Memory Card, eMail, etc.) and the input is separate from the common platform (and, in the case of voting, the security) for the output (receipt and tabulation).

Paul Reader

March 07, 2012, 11:29AM
As Whitney suggests, in further discussion, the output could be far smaller than the equivalent paper ballot. If the voter was prepared to accept the 1-1 correspondence between an encoded ballot and the printed receipt then when they attend the polling place to cast their vote they could be given the choice of casting it at the desk where they are marked off the roll (like presenting a bus or train ticket at an automatic turnstile) or queuing to use a similar machine that will 'read' the encoded ballot and present with a review/reject option before casting. In either case the equipment used to scan the ballot would be the same relatively small device with the former set to automatically accept and have no review device attached. I bet by the third election using such a process that the percentage of voters wanting to go through the review process reduces significantly.

Meena Kadri

March 06, 2012, 21:40PM
Great build from the accessible election design workshop – advantages abound!

Johan Löfström

March 06, 2012, 21:22PM
I thought there where rules against filling in the ballots outside the polling station? It must be so that no "organised tampering" could take place... i.e. someone filling out several thousands of ballots and handing them to voters against a bribe...

Whitney Quesenbery

March 06, 2012, 21:35PM
Like coercion, there are always concerns about vote buying. But more and more states allow absentee ballots, and two use postal voting entirely. The problem is that some voters can't use these paper ballots independently. So why not offer alternatives outside of the polling place. It's a change, but perhaps not such a large one. The difference is that voters could still come to the polling place to cast their ballots, which gives them an opportunity to vote freely.

Maybe our focus should be on enabling all voters, rather than restricting access in the hopes of reducing fraud and abuse.

Daniel Castro

March 06, 2012, 21:47PM
Johan, I think you are right that in some places there would be restrictions on this, depending on how it is implemented. But there would likely be ways to get around it by treating this as an absentee ballot.

One way to reduce coercion would be to allow the voter to change their ballot at the poll place before casting the ballot or allow them to vote multiple times but only count the last ballot.

Johan Löfström

March 06, 2012, 22:29PM
I totally agree, but I just had to ask, in case this violated any federal or local legislation.

The swedish system allows distance voting by mail, and also to vote again at the polling station on election day : Only the last vote is counted, and any earlier submitted is cancelled from the records.

and of course we also have totally different ballot cards here, which I think is much simpler to understand for people with disabilities or little less grasp of logics and understanding complex graphic forms:

Mamta Gautam

March 06, 2012, 17:11PM
Dear Whitney, while trying to understand the challenge brief, i did follow the link and saw this concept. I think it is great idea-it allows for flexibility, ballot readers can mark on their own or with the help of their relatives, it would reduce the time one stands in a queue and would be very easy on the pole workers as well. However just a small concern- one is never sure that the ballot was marked by that individual only. For example would their be situation when people in the family know who voted for whom, in the neighborhoods would people show each others ballots ? The good thing about people marking at voting places is no one is watching you ( one might be influenced ) but there is no way other person knows who voted for whom. In this concept maintaining ones ballot is left onto an individual , i am assuming it should not be an issue to keep it discreet in the American context. In India (rural context) it would mean all the husbands marking for their wives !

Whitney Quesenbery

March 06, 2012, 19:22PM
Mamta, Great point. You are right that the election system has to help protect voters from coercion. That's why it's important that there is always an option to receive your ballot and mark it at the polling place.

Paul Reader

March 06, 2012, 10:40AM
Very well thought through Whitney - in my now abandoned concept I had sought to separate the casting and review/counting steps (until you kindly explained the review requirement).
I noticed in another of your posts that you said new generation voting machines are being developed all the time so, as Vincent says, your proposal might be very quickly implementable.
I was using the technology currently adopted by NY State as a point of reference. They utilise a special marking pen for the ballots.and require that there be no stray marks on the ballot - this sounds like technology from about 15 years ago. It should be relatively simple to reprogram the machines to accept hand marked ballots and QR codes and probably fewer errors. It would be a good intermediate step on the way to electronic voting, an ongoing alternative for those who prefer and a fall-back position for electronic failure.

Whitney Quesenbery

March 06, 2012, 19:28PM
Paul, when I think about how most paper ballots work currently, they are like the whole menu at a restaurant - showing all the choices. But it occurs to me that there is no reason why the ballot as cast has to show the whole menu. It could just show the voter's selections, just as your bill from a restaurant only shows what you actually ordered.

I think this leads to several advantages:

- It's easier to review your choices, because there is no ambiguity. The candidates you chose are on the list. No hoping that the scanners will count your ballot as you intend.

- No special printer requirements - just be able to print the selected names or answers to ballot questions.

- It makes it possible to use digital/OCR scan instead of optical scan (using timing marks and measuring the position of the marks) to count the ballots on a tabulator.

- If laid out well, it would also make auditing or hand-counting the cast ballots easier, too. No arguments about stray marks or deciding what to do if a voter (for example) circles the name instead of filling in an oval.

- Smaller papers to store (most countries have requirements for how long after an election the ballot papers are stored)

Paul Reader

March 07, 2012, 02:02AM
Thanks Whitney I am getting a better picture of the process detail.
As usual this means I have some more questions - one of which re-raises some aspects of my abandoned concept.

When you lodge an absentee or postal ballot there is no review step and no feedback - what you lodge is what is counted (or not as the case may be) - therefore is the review mainly to see that the machine can interpret what is lodged, as opposed to just a chance to change your mind?

In your latest discussion you say -
"If laid out well, it would also make auditing or hand-counting the cast ballots easier, too. No arguments about stray marks or deciding what to do if a voter (for example) circles the name instead of filling in an oval. "
If a ballot had a name circled what would be the outcome if it was counted manually?
Under present circumstances this constitutes a stray mark and the ballot would be rejected.
If digital/OCR scanning was adopted how, if at all, would this alter?

As I said before the basis of my abandoned concept was to separate the casting and counting steps - basically I was thinking that casting the ballot would be a simple matter of feeding a machine that would result in a secure stack awaiting counting. That way several machines could accept ballots but only 2 scanning engines would be required (one for redundancy). Counting could then proceed at a relatively constant rate independent of voter traffic, unless volumes are very low.

Whitney Quesenbery

March 07, 2012, 04:53AM
Quick reply about ambiguous marking on a paper ballot. Although specifics vary by jurisdiction, there is an attempt to determine the voter's intent and count the ballot accordingly.

Drew Davies

March 13, 2012, 14:24PM
Whitney, I like your comment above regarding outputs that only show the voter's choices rather than the whole menu. But doesn't that system then necessitate that votes are being recorded electronically (a whole new world of considerations) rather than everyone's votes being captured in a standardized, machine-countable ballot? Or am I being old-fashioned in thinking that all the paper records need to appear as the same, standard ballot?

Paul Reader

March 13, 2012, 19:16PM
Hi Drew,
I don't think it would matter if only the voters choices are recorded provided the ballot is both machine and human readable. Hence my suggestion for bus ticket size ballots that are both human and machine readable.
I was thinking bus/rail tickets mainly for some fairly robust medium together with magnetic encoding but even credit card size would be ok to accommodate referenda type choices.

Vincent Cheng

March 06, 2012, 07:30AM
Love this creative process redesign concept Whitney! Provides the benefits of marking your ballot whenever, wherever, & however you want, while maintaining the physical voter identification & paper trail of the current polling place system.

This provides some of the benefits of Online/Mobile/Absentee voting ( ), while remaining a more incremental system change that may be more quickly palatable & immediately implementable.

You might also want to check out Rachel Happen's related "DIY Absentee Ballots" concept, which separates the voting & verification/identification process to increase accessibility, and also proposes expanding voting & verification locations:

Whitney Quesenbery

March 06, 2012, 19:28PM
Vincent, I agree, and have added these to the collaboration map. I should have taken the time to make those connections.

Vincent Cheng

March 07, 2012, 18:07PM
I'm just excited with all the great inspirations, ideas, & insights you're posting Whitney! No biggie, about missing a connection here or there. It'd take a superhuman effort to keep tabs on everything.

On that note, have now linked to this concept from my online voting concept as well.

And thought you might be interested in Amanda's related "Online Balloting" concept, which she recently posted:

Amanda Forker

March 14, 2012, 17:05PM
Thanks for the mention, Vincent. I like that we are all at least on the same page here. It indicates this concept might be a winning one.

I think the idea of accessible balloting, combined with accessible drop offs and multi-device support will help tie together a solution for voting for people with disabilities.
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