Thursday, February 16, 2012

Guest Post: Democracy by Design — Voter Friendly Ballot Act Offers Sleek, Simple Solution

When searching for their next computer, cell-phone, or weather app, many consumers prioritize sleek, minimalistic designs, simple interfaces, and easy-to-understand language over increased information and data capabilities. The more user-friendly a product, the more likely it is to suit the average American’s needs. Often overlooked, there is another place to demand usability, not as consumers, but as voters—in the voting booth.

Our choices on Election Day lay the foundation for democracy. Voting provides an essential safeguard against corruption and allows voters to ensure that representatives stay accountable. And despite what you may think about the worth of one vote, thousands of votes—taken together—count a great deal. Yet every election, many thousands of votes are tossed aside and rejected as a result of a number of administrative and voting errors. Poorly designed voting ballots are just one source of this injustice.

When thousands of voters in Palm Beach County, Florida protested that they had read the ballot incorrectly and mistakenly voted for the wrong person in the 2000 Presidential Election, the infamous butterfly ballot spotlighted the necessity of a clearly formatted and easy to understand ballot. Yet twelve years later, voting citizens across the United States still face unreasonably confusing and maze-like ballots and machines.

For instance, in the 2010 New York State elections, nearly 60,000 votes statewide were not counted because the machines read them as being mismarked. This was no doubt in large part due to the fact that New York’s ballots are among the most difficult to use in the country. The problems with these ballots are wide-ranging. In some cases, a voter may simply have not correctly followed the lengthy, jargon-y voting instructions. In other cases, ill-defined and arbitrary boxes may make the lines between candidates and contests incomprehensible, leading voters to vote for too many candidates. Indeed, the real question is not philosophical—“does my vote count?”— but very concrete—“is my vote being counted at all?”

Luckily, there is a solution. After spending the 2011 session in Committee, the Voter Friendly Ballot Act (A07492B), a bill providing guidelines for simplifying New York State’s ballot design, was reintroduced to the New York State Assembly by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) last month. Having garnered support through a late-November New York City Council Resolution promoting its enactment, it is definitely a bill worth following.

In order to reduce Election Day confusion, the legislation provides for minimum font sizes, shorter, more concise directions, and less cluttered response box formats. The guidelines also support a number of “suggested” rather than “required” formats (such as shading and font styles), in order to both offer design flexibility and accommodate counties facing different voting machine technologies and election or candidate-specific circumstances. In sum, the legislation is a straightforward solution to a simple yet infinitely problematic barrier to voting. By creating ballots that are easier to read with directions that are easier to understand, this bill could make voting booths more efficient and less intimidating.

At a time when voter turnout is low and public disillusionment high, an ambiguous and confusing ballot is simply unacceptable. While increasingly complex in technologies, our society constantly prioritizes conciseness and efficiency. In a world where over one-third of American adults own a smartphone and billions of 140-character ideas are disbursed per day, a ballot that is similarly sleek, user-friendly, and to-the-point is an entirely reasonable expectation—one that we, as New Yorkers and Americans, should demand.

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act is an essential step in the right direction and one which, once taken, will provide a tangible effect both on the next election and on the individual voter—that is, the next time you step into the voting booth.

Brandi Lupo is a junior at NYU studying Political Economy and Legal Theory.

No comments: