Being Online Is Still Not Enough
Reviews and Recommendations for State Election Websites
Best Practices: Content Presentation
Even if state election websites have the best information, they must present it in a way that will be accessible and intuitive for users. The following recommendations are based on expert assessments and practices already in place in some states.
Website Navigation and Organization
- Implement navigation that is logical, persistent, and consistent
- Logical: Navigation links are written and grouped according to what a user will be looking for.
- Persistent: The navigation system is on every page of the website.
- Consistent: The navigation system is in the same location on every page and works the same way from page to page.
For example, the Nevada navigation system provided logical labels, was available on every page, and was consistent in how it worked and appeared. The navigation opened automatically as users moved within the site, so they did not have to click on a broad category in order to see the subcategory links below it.
- Use page titles, navigational highlighting, and “breadcrumbs” to help users determine where they are within the site and where to go next.
- Consistent page titles match the name of the link the user clicks and accurately indicate the content of the page.
- Navigation highlighting uses color, bold type, or flagging to indicate the broader, “global” section and the page the user is on.
- Breadcrumbs run along the top of the page and indicate the location of the page within the site structure. They typically look like this: Produce >> Fruit >> Oranges
For example, Alaska used page titles, navigation highlighting, and breadcrumbs to indicate location within its election website.
- Use descriptive link names that clearly indicate content the user is linking to instead of using generic links such as “Click Here.”
Users tend to scan pages looking for bullet points, bold text, and links. When scanning a page, generic link titles such as “Click Here” force users to stop to read in order to find out where that link will take them. If they cannot scan quickly, they may not find what they want or they may give up.
- Information should be grouped logically, with each topic in one place. It is useful to organize by intended audience, such as “For Voters” or “For Candidates.” Or organize by subject/topic, by task, or by chronology.
Making Information Understandable and Accessible
- Because 43 percent of the U.S. population has low literacy, according to the U.S. Department of Education, voting information should be written at or below the eighth-grade level so that it is understandable to most users. Content should be written for the web in concise, easy-to-scan bullet points with hyperlinks to guide users.
- Concise wording: Start with the main point, then add necessary detail.
- Easy to scan: Use bold text and highlighting to group information logically.
- Hyperlinks: Hyperlink phrases to take users to information and tools on the site.
Also, use standard formatting, such as only underlining text for hyperlinks, not for headlines or emphasis.
For example, Florida’s election website was easy to scan because of its logical grouping of content, easily skimmed blocks of text, and bulleted lists.
- Limit using PDFs to print-and-fill-out forms, not for basic information.
- Users who open a PDF often become confused when taken to what they think is another website, but one without any navigation. They have trouble getting out of these “new sites” and get frustrated when they cannot see previously available elements of the website.
- PDFs are not easily searchable for people who are not expert Adobe Acrobat users.
- Users frequently complain about not being able to see a PDF document well, and many struggle to find how to resize the document.
- PDFs that present information in lengthy, linear fashion often are poor substitutes for today’s Web presentation, which features information broken into pieces for quick scanning of material the user is interested in.
- Offer features that make information accessible to users with visual disabilities. Users with impaired vision often use assistive technologies to interact with websites, including screen readers such as JAWS and magnifiers such as ZoomText.
- Place a “Skip Navigation” link at the top of all pages. Users of screen readers rely on the link to jump to the main content of any given page.
For example, the Maryland State Board of Elections website included a “Skip to Main Content” at the top of each page. That allowed users with screen readers to skip over repetitive navigation.
- Use scalable fonts. This allows users to change text size with their browser controls.
- Offer “ALT text” for graphics needed to navigate the website. This allows those using screen-reading software to know what an image is showing. This text should not exceed 100 characters.
For example, the Oregon Elections Division site included “ALT” information for graphics throughout the site. This example shows the home page with images turned off (top) and with images on (below).
- Provide high-contrast colors between background and text and with images to increase legibility. The most basic and legible high-contrast scheme is black text on a white background. Even well-sighted people can get frustrated trying to read small, poorly contrasted text on a website.
- Make visited links change color. Most users expect links to change color once they have visited them so they will not waste time visiting them again.