Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bad Ballot Design Results in Staggering Numbers of Lost Votes

Research results on bad ballot design ...

"Today voting technology experts at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released an extensive analysis of election ballots from across the country that shows that hundreds of thousands of voters were disenfranchised in recent elections as a result of badly designed ballots and confusing voting instructions.

Better Ballots, a product of the Center's national Task Force of design and usability experts and election officials, cites 13 frequent problems that continue to plague elections even after the infamous "butterfly ballot" in Florida's Palm Beach which resulted in 30,000 lost votes in the 2000 election.

The report recommends specific guidelines for county, state and federal election officials that will help avoid further voting blunders in 2008—and beyond.

Significantly, the report shows that ballot design problems disenfranchise disproportionate numbers of elderly, low-income and new voters.

"Design flaws resulted in hundreds of thousands of lost votes in recent elections," said Lawrence Norden, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, "and the same error-causing designs still plague ballots across the country."

"The good news is that states and counties can take steps to improve ballots now, well ahead of this year's general election. We implore them to do so," he continued.

"Elderly citizens, especially, too often have their goal of casting a vote thwarted by jumbled design, and sheer incomprehensibility. This is one election problem with no villains. We can fix ballot design issues over the summer, so that in November every vote cast is a vote that will be accurately counted," said Michael Waldman, Brennan Center Executive Director. "We had three million newly registered voters just in the first three months of 2008."

The 13 design flaws identified in Better Ballots fall into three general categories- ballot layout, text formatting and voting instructions- all illustrated in an interactive demonstration available on the Brennan Center website www.brennancenter.org/ballot. Typical flaws include:

* Listing candidates for the same office on two or more pages or columns;
* Listing multiple contests on the same screen, in electronic touch-screen systems;
* Placing response options on both sides of a candidate's name;
* Providing instructions that are full of legal or election jargon, and difficult for many voters to understand.


The report examines ballots from states including Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Tennessee and Kansas, and draws on results from the 2000, 2002 and 2006 elections in both state and federal contests.

In each case, the Brennan Center study provides quantitative data that illustrates the cause of uncounted votes. Better Ballots makes clear that all voters are at risk for lost or misrecorded votes, all voting technologies are vulnerable to the effects of a poorly designed ballot, and, that whether at the top or the bottom of the ballot, all political contests can be subject to unrepresentative vote tallies due to ballot flaws.

In the most egregious and well-known case, the "butterfly ballot" used in Palm Beach County, Florida during the 2000 presidential election, the presidential race was split into two columns, which, as the Brennan Center report explains, likely caused more than 2,000 Democratic voters to mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan and threw out an additional 20,000 votes due to double-voting—in a race that was decided by fewer than 600 votes."    (Continued via CommonDream.org, Brennan Center for Justice)    [Usability Resources]

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