BTN LiveBIG: Voting made easier at Michigan State


Every November, millions of Americans express their political beliefs by taking part in the democratic process. Unfortunately, voting can be difficult for those with mobility issues.

Work being done at Michigan State is trying to make the voting experience easier for everyone.

Leading the project is Sarah Swierenga, the Director of Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting (UARC) at Michigan State. UARC is part of University Outreach and Engagement; the group’s emphasis is improving the community around the university.

“There’s been a lot more public interest in the way that the ballot is put together and the voting experience,” said Swierenga. “There has been a realization that the process of voting does impact the outcome of really important elections. We have a responsibility that everybody can vote independently and privately in the polling places.”

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, through the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Swierenga and UARC have been working to develop the “Smart Voting Joystick.”

The group has worked with senior engineering students to develop a joystick comparable to those used for video games or to control motorized wheelchairs. The goal is to make the entire voting experience easier though advances in technology.

According to Swierenga, many individuals with dexterity issues end up voting absentee, which costs them the social experience of voting.

The research being done by Swierenga’s team has also focused on poll-worker training, ballot design, use of assistive technology and utilizing a tablet in the voting process.

“This was a pretty small project with regard to grant funding,” said Swierenga. “But the potential impact for the number of people who could benefit from this type of technology is large.”

For more about the “Smart Voting Joystick” and other ways Michigan State is impacting the world, go to: http://outreach.msu.edu/

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