Creating the Grange Prize Online Vote

The Grange Prize
The vote page of the 2010 Grange Prize

The Grange Prize is an annual contemporary photography prize. The winner is chosen through a people’s-choice vote conducted in-gallery and online. When the AGO took over the site this year, our goal was to create an easy to use and reasonably secure voting mechanism. The rules of the vote were simple — one vote per email address. This meant the main thing we needed to do was verify email addresses. We realized we already had the capability to do this, in the form of the double-opt-in mechanism of our list manager.

What is Double-opt-in? A user submits an address using an online form – that’s the first opt-in. Addresses are stored in the system and marked “unconfirmed.” Then the user confirms the action by clicking a link in an email – that’s the second opt-in. It is not until the verification link is clicked that it is marked as “active” or “confirmed.”

The choice being voted on – in our case Artists – were “segments” of the list. Segments are simply a second column of data, typically holding some sort of preference or demographic data.

So mainly we used the system as designed, simply changing the language presented to the user so that “subscribe” became “vote.” Easy!

Details, Details

There are many, many list management options out there. The ideas outlined above probably apply to any system. We happen to use a system called Cakemail, which has its own peculiarities.

In Cakemail, if a previously confirmed address is re-submitted it is marked as unconfirmed until the verification link is clicked. To ensure votes were not invalidated in this way we needed to check that an address had not already been confirmed.

Luckily, Cakemail provides a way to do this. If you pass an email address to a certian URL, it will return either a “1” or a “0” in response. So when the user submits their address we used this PHP class to get the response from that URL and from there it’s a simple ‘if/else” to either submit the address to the system or redirect to a ‘Sorry, you’ve already voted’ message.

One last thing to mention is the CAPTCHA, which is used to verify that the from is being submitted by a human being rather than an automated bot. For this we used eForm, which is part of the ModX content management system upon which the site was built.

Posted June 2009

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