Ballot Tells Voters to Fill Wrong Oval

City elections officials will reinforce the proper way to fill out ballots on election day after the revelation that printed ballot instructions tell voters to fill in the wrong ovals.

Instructions on a sample ballot direct voters to fill the "oval above" a candidate's name -- but the proper oval is  below each candidate's name. Following those instructions, someone trying to vote for Carl Paladino for Governor on the Taxpayers Party line would actually cast a vote for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.

The Brennan Center for Justice found the error after obtaining a sample ballot from the city Board of Elections. The center wrote a letter requesting the ballot be fixed before the election.

The incorrect instructions read:

"To vote for a candidate whose name is printed on this ballot, fill in the oval above or next to the name of the candidate."

UPDATE:  The Brennan Center also found that the incorrect wording of the instructions is actually mandated by state law. We've highlighted that section of the law here. City election officials have previously said that almost every aspect of the ballot design is dicated by state law, preventing changes that would make ballots easier to use.

"For most voters, they'll be able to figure out who to vote for," said Brennan Center Senior Counsel Larry Norden. Unless, he said, they read the instructions.

On the sample ballot, each candidate and his or her oval are bounded by a box, and in most cases the proper oval is clearly below the candidate's name. But ballot designers have expressed concern that sometimes the nearest oval is actually just above the candidate's name -- potentially causing confusion even without the incorrect instructions.

The Board of Elections issued a statement on Thursday in response to questions about the erroneous ballot instructions. "On November 2, New York City voters will vote using a paper ballot and optical scanner. To vote for a candidate whose name appears on the paper ballot, voters need to fill in the oval that appears within the voting square for that candidate." 

"To ensure that all voters are comfortable and confident using the new voting system, the Board of Elections in the City of New York is placing in every privacy booth at all poll sites, instructions that inform voters that they need to fill in the oval below the candidate name they wish to vote for. The Board is also reinforcing instructions on how to correctly fill out the paper ballot by highlighting this information in upcoming newspaper advertisements and by producing a detailed instructional voter palm card which includes a photo of a correctly marked oval.  This palm card will be distributed at every poll site on Election Day and will also be available shortly on the Board’s website," the statement concluded.

To look at the sample ballot yourself, scroll down and click on the yellow boxes below for detail. The mistaken instructions are on the second page.

Sample ballot scan courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice, which obtained the document from the New York City Board of Elections.