About two years ago, when I told a friend in Massachusetts that my wife and I were moving to Florida, she was amazed. “Florida?,” she wondered. “Where they have trouble voting?” No doubt she was referring to the 2000 presidential election, “hanging chads,” that whole sorry affair. I’m often reminded of her comment as I experience my first lead-up to an election here in the Upper Keys. There have been few, if any, public debates, as far as I know, only carefully worded candidate statements in local papers and a “voters guide” largely financed by ads paid for by the candidates themselves. Since there was nothing in that “guide” about where I might actually vote, I googled Monroe County, Supervisor of Elections and soon found my way to an official “precinct finder” which turned out to be a good example of a hard-to-use interface for a poorly designed database.
Probably like thousands of would-be voters before me, I did not read the detailed, complicated-looking directions–I jumped right to the form because it looked like so many other forms I’d seen before. I typed in my street name: Sunrise Drive… which brought up an irrelevant list of something (I can’t remember what) that bestowed a brief deer-in-headlights moment on me before I recovered enough to go back and actually read the directions. Even then, it took me a while to understand them and several more tries before I figured out what they meant: only enter the NAME in the street name, but not the direction (North, South, etc.) if that’s part of the name and not the kind of street (Avenue, Blvd., etc.) if that’s also in the street name. Oh, now I get it! Hey, I’m not stupid, I was just in a hurry, doing quick data entry, the way I have so many times before, so I did NOT stop to read the fine print and it took a baffling derailment to make me slow down enough to focus in and figure out what THE problem (NOT my problem) was.
Then, just for fun and because I’m a usability zealot, I tried typing fast and that worked (contrary to what the instructions warned) and then tried copying and pasting my street name–and that worked, too (also contrary to what the instructions warned).
So I’m thinking the database in back of that form was designed to allow only one word in a single field for “street name”–and the Supervisor of Elections hasn’t had the money or inclination to fix that (or maybe just hook it up to a decent search engine?), thereby frustrating more than a few potential voters, some of whom probably gave up and won’t bother voting. And at some point in the past, typing too fast and cutting and pasting an address into the field caused a technical glitch, but now it doesn’t and again the Supervisor of Elections apparently hasn’t noticed and asked someone to update the help text.