Top Designers Speak Out on the Ballot

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. On Brian Lehrer today, Charles Blow, New York Times visual Op-Ed columnist; Julie Lasky, editor of the Change Observer channel at Design Observer; and Milton Glaser, designer of the "I ♥ NY" logo talked about the design of the new ballots and voting system.

Charles Blow's reaction to the new voting experience began with the ambiance. Before he even gets to the paper ballots, he says he's a bit nostalgic for the voting booths. 

"The kind of old world, flipping of the switches and the finality of the crunch that I loved so much - all that is gone."

But Blow had some concrete issues with the layout of the new paper ballot. He says he found the information on the ballot cramped together and poorly organized. 

For instance, why aren't national races, and state races and city races separated on the ballot so you understand how many people or sections you have to vote for? It was hard for me. I almost looked over sections of the ballot because they just folded in in a random order.

I [HEART] NY revolutionized logos and city marketing around the world. So its designer, guru Milton Glaser, says he wonders why the city didn't call to ask him to work on the ballot. What would he change about the type? You name it.

"Contrast, scale, choice of typeface. Any number of other things. It's really incompetent."

Milton Glaser says that the size of the font alone is impossible - too small. He says he would even work pro bono to re-design the ballot. But Julie Lasky says that voting in Park Slope was a breeze this morning. While she agrees with Blow and Glaser about font size and layout, she feels that the total voting procedure was more conducive.

Procedurally it works because before when we had the lever system and we had to go in behind a curtain. Even if the voting area was empty, you still couldn't take your time, you had to hustle yourself out of there. But the situation where you can go and pick any number of different locations to fill out the ballot left a lot of time to figure things out.


Charles M. Blow, Milton Glaser and Julie Lasky


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Comments [2]

Lydia Mann from Manhattan, 10025

I, too, am a designer and the web director at AIGA, the professional association for design. AIGA Design for Democracy ( was established in 1998 and focused on ballot design following the 2000 presidential election. WNYC posted an interview with Jessica Friedman Hewitt in which she critiqued the failings of the sample ballot provided and pointed to design recommendations made freely available on AIGa's site (

I was disheartened that NY's ballot design did not take advantage of our research but was relieved that the actual Primary Day ballot was much better than the sample distributed beforehand. At my upper Westside voting station this afternoon there had been few incorrectly filled ballots and things were moving very smoothly.

Which is not to say there isn't much room for improvement. If not Milton Glaser's fine offer, there are many other designers – myself included – who would gladly take this project on as a civil service.

Sep. 14 2010 04:36 PM

The Mayor is RIGHT ON! I totally agree with him. One cannot help but think of Tom Friedman's last column this past Sunday: "We're # 1(1)!". We are, educationally, really, truly behind the eight-ball.

The basics and simplicity of this scanning system are virtually self-evident.

You had AMPLE Board of Elections training for all Inspectors on the new system. In fact, as someone who has worked elections in New York since the late 70's, the new system is far, far simpler than the duties and process associated with the old machines. I won;t go into the issues of security, hacking, etc. etc. here

I voted this AM on suburban Long Island. I was #5 to vote, but NO ONE in there had the foggiest on how to proceed. It was bedlam in the making. For starters, the media has been full of how marking an X will invalidate a count, and disqualify a ballot.

One would THINK you'd have signs warning of this in the SIMPLEST MANNER in those three-sided voting stalls set up to mark the ballots. You'd think you'd have big signs instructing this in the room.

In short, what I saw in relatively voter-savvy, election glitch-free northern Nassau this AM was pretty scary. We need to get this together in time for The Big One coming on November 2! If not, we can make Florida look like a Rhodes Scholar convention in comparison to the bedlam we'll have in New York.

Sep. 14 2010 04:06 PM

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