August 25, 2008, 9:55 am
Designing a Better Ballot
By Henry Woodbury
Debates about voting access often focus on the way votes are tallied: paper vs. electronic; touchscreen vs. optical scan. But a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law asserts that consistent design and clear instructions are possibly more important than technology:
When it comes to ensuring that votes are accurately recorded and tallied, there is a respectable argument that poor ballot design and confusing instructions have resulted in far more lost votes than software glitches, programming errors, or machine breakdowns. As this report demonstrates, poor ballot design and instructions have caused the loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of votes in nearly every election year.
The report, Better Ballots (PDF), emphatically states the importance of good design — and good design practices, such as usability testing:
Usability testing is the best way to make sure that voters can use the ballot successfully, confident that they actually voted for the candidates and positions they intended to vote for. Usability testing allows election officials to observe individual voters using a ballot — before the election — in order to see where they have problems. This allows election officials to analyze the design and language choices to determine the cause of those problems. They can then redesign and rewrite the ballot to eliminate those problems — before the election. Unfortunately, the vast majority of jurisdictions do not conduct usability testing of their ballots before an election. Of course, all ballots will eventually receive a usability test — on Election Day. At that point, unfortunately, finding out that a ballot is confusing to voters is most unwelcome news.
Related to this, see the AIGA’s interactive redesign of the general election ballot, which points out specific usability problems and how they might be remedied: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/08/25/opinion/20080825-ballot.html
Posted by Lisa Agustin on August 28, 2008 at 11:09 am