Monday, March 05, 2012

New Efforts to Improve Ballot Design

We’re always interested in learning about new projects to improve elections, so we thought we would share an exciting new proposal to make it easier for election administrators to improve ballot design. By applying the basic design principles to ballots, Field Guidelines to Ensure Voter Intent proposes to publish a series of books with guidelines and examples of common ballot design problems to help election officials employ ballot design techniques that help ensure that every vote is cast as voters intend.

As the Brennan Center found in Better Ballots, common problems due to poor ballot design and instructions have led to the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters. As recently as last week, we were reminded of the importance ballot design can play in a close election. The results of a hotly contested City Council race in upstate New York were overturned after a hand recount found that a voting machine had not properly counted two ballots. One of the two ballots in question was improperly marked; a voter had circled an oval instead of filling it in. Although the machine was unable to detect the vote,the voter’s intent was clear to election officials as they reviewed the ballot. The margin of victory in that election was a single vote. Mistakes like these can often be prevented through clearer instructions on how to properly mark a ballot.

In this upcoming election season, we hope to see more important tools like these that will help election officials prepare for elections.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Thank you for your post about this very important civic design issue. I'm working with Dana Chisnell on her Kickstarter project and we are excited to report the campaign has reached 70% of its goal towards funding her data-driven field guides.

On Tuesday, in Kendall County, Illinois, ambiguous ballot wording will likely lead to confusion over whether to keep or eliminate county office positions. The wording of the questions is prescribed by state statute. Specifically,

"To keep the offices, voters vote "no". To eliminate the offices, voters vote "yes."

This is just one example of so many challenges voters face when going to the poles.

Can the perfect ballot be designed? We think so. The research Dana is conducting for the field guides will focus on multi-language ballots, vote-by-mail, voting and older adults and alternative counting methods - issues previously untouched by data.