How Polling Station Design Could Influence Elections


Poorly designed polling stations could discourage some people from voting. Time to adopt a universal design standard. Today, an estimated half a million people in New Hampshire will go to the polls to vote in the Republican and Democratic primaries, and in the weeks ahead, many other Americans will vote as well. Depending on where you live, you’re guaranteed to get a totally different voting experience compared to someone in another state, or even another county. That’s because the physical design of polling stations varies wildly across the U.S.: they’re located in libraries, civic centers, grocery stores, and other random places, and there isn’t a universal set of rules that tells officials how to set up polling stations. But new research suggests that the design of polling stations is critical to the voting process—and if we don’t design these places well, some people may decide not to vote.

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.