How Design Can Save Democracy
As the 2008 presidential election approaches, state and local election officials are increasingly concerned about having enough ballots, workers and equipment to handle the predicted high turnout. And with millions of new voters expected to head to the polls, ballot design will be more important than ever.
Unfortunately, because of technical limitations in voting equipment, misguided local laws, short time frames and tight budgets, many ballots will repeat design mistakes made in past elections. But with access to new ballot design guidelines, officials can now make significant improvements in election accuracy and voter confidence.
During the 2000 presidential election in Palm Beach County in Florida, a confusing “butterfly ballot” design for punch-card voting equipment made it easy to miscast votes for the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan that were intended for Al Gore. The confusion called national attention to the design of ballots. But even in 2008, flaws that lead to voter uncertainty and error persist and often go unnoticed.
In an attempt to comply with federal legislation calling for more up-to-date voting equipment, many jurisdictions are trying to reduce voting error rates. Indeed, they are replacing older equipment like punch cards and levers with newer electronic touch-screen machines and optical scanners.
But new equipment does not solve fundamental design flaws.
Earlier this year, the United States Election Assistance Commission distributed guidelines created by professional designers to 6,000 local election officials. And recently, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law issued a report outlining the importance of well-designed, easy to understand ballots. This interactive feature identifies common design problems found on optical-scan ballots from previous presidential elections and shows ways to improve clarity and vote accuracy based on the commission’s new guidelines.