Designing a Clearer Ballot

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Listen to a discussion of the new ballot design bill from the Brian Lehrer Show above.

Your ballot may be getting a makeover.

Ballot DetailIn the primary and general elections last fall, voters across New York City struggled with new paper ballots. But local officials said many of the design issues, and even incorrect instructions, are written into state law.

Today, state Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan) is announcing a bill that would change the election law to allow for clearer ballots -- with the aim of making it easier to vote.

Here's a mockup of a new New York State ballot based on the proposed law, done by The Brennan Center for Justice and Design for Democracy, both of which helped draft the bill (click here for an expanded view):

Click yellow boxes for annotations. Pages 3 and 4 are the demonstration ballot provided by the NYC Board of Elections ahead of the fall 2010 elections. Click here for an expanded view

The Brennan Center and Design for Democracy also put together a PowerPoint slide show with details on the proposed election law changes.

Do you have any thoughts about the redesign? Are you a designer who wants to take a crack at the ballot? If so, put your contact information in the comments section below (the email field will not be made public) and we'll be in touch!



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Comments [10]

Whitney Quesenbery

Usability testing is an important part of any design process. It's especially important in ballot design, because voters must be able to mark their ballot accurately without any assistance.

We urge the county election officials and NY State Board of Elections to carefully test any new ballot design, being sure to include a widely diverse group of voters (and people with disabilities) in the testing.

UPA's Usability in Civic Life project has worked along side the Brennan Center and Deign for Democracy adding plain language and expertise from usability testing to this project.

Jun. 10 2011 09:51 AM
SM from New Yawk, New Yawk

I am a database designer and work with screens for folks all the time. Care should be taken to "guide the eye" to what should be seen / used / dealt with "next".

E.g., as someone said, the direction to turn ballot over should be right at the top, by that fill in picture.

Also, candidates should go down the page and parties across, because there are nearly always fewer parties than people. It is easier to read and scan a long page than a wide page. To turn the wide page for scanning "feels" odd (I know it is perfectly possible).

I too think it really ironic that after all these years of voting "something that works" has not been arrived at yet. Mixed case is nearly ALWAYS better. Then upper case can be used for EMPHASIS!!!

Jun. 09 2011 06:24 PM
Kim A from Manhattan

This is actually a pretty decent design until you get down to the 3rd party candidates. It would make more sense to make Libertarian and Antiprohibition share a line, since in one case they even share a candidate. Ultimately Antiprohibition will end up on the line below for Senator, but at least it won't be as confusing as when Freedom party shifts lines immediately at Attorney General.That way it maintains some consistency. (Luckily, it's pretty rare for NY to have as many candidates as we did last fall.)

Also, the "turn over ballot" should also appear on the left side, since many people abstain from voting for the lesser offices, especially when they don't know the candidates.

Jun. 09 2011 12:13 PM
David Bragin from Brooklyn

1, Yes, I second John from NYC, Hire a skilled designer like Edward Tufte.

2. Publish ballot prior to election so that people can study it at home (and maybe even mark it up), or at least a facsimile.

3. Use color in design.

Jun. 09 2011 10:27 AM
John from Brooklyn

I find it hilarious that after being a vote-based nation for over 200 years, we still haven't figured out how to make a functional ballot. Literally centuries of firm democratic belief and technological achievement, and we still haven't figured out the single most fundamental piece of it all.

Jun. 09 2011 10:27 AM
Kellie Quarton from Brooklyn

For the past few elections, I've wondered why online voting has not been implemented. Any reasons you know of?

Jun. 09 2011 10:25 AM
John from NYC

Clear graphic design comes from clear thinking. Check the work of Edward Tufte.

Jun. 09 2011 10:21 AM
Joachim Carels from Billy-Burg

Interesting note that all caps are harder to read. I was watch the british car show TOP GEAR and they were talking to a woman who designed the first "modern" road signs and she also picked upper and lower case fonts for the signs because they are much easier to read. They were designed to be able to be read at high speed and the pattern recognition that we use to recognize words doesn't happen when all caps are used. interesting that it comes up in the ballot design discussion. something that many people also rush through, unfortunately

Jun. 09 2011 10:21 AM
Jeff Pappas from Dumbo

I think its all about obfuscation.
Ct has a similar paper ballot too
Keep it simple stupid

Jun. 09 2011 10:18 AM

See also and

Jun. 09 2011 10:17 AM

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