Ballot Design

Monday, November 01, 2010

Jessica Friedman Hewitt, former managing director of AIGA's Design for Democracy, looks at the ballot that will be used in tomorrow's general election.


Jessica Friedman Hewitt

Comments [25]

linda from bayside

I am writing to give you a poll worker's perspective on Election Day. The work day is from 5 am to 10 pm, setting up and closing down. The New York state voting system was new to voters and workers alike. As an inspector/scanner I had the opportunity to speak to the voters after they finished working on the ballot and guided them through the scanning process. I would estimate that 75% of voters complained about the printed ballot, because the print was so small. Many older voters did not know how to use the ballot at all and were angry and upset. We had to offer a lot of assistance. I was enthusiastic about the system, and did my best to convey the benefits of a backup paper ballot to the voters as they watched the scanner working and the ballot paper disappearing into it. Most people enjoyed the scanner part. Young people were happiest about that part. Hopefully I gave the voters some positive feeling about their act and thanked each one for voting.

I had the pleasure of meeting your parents later in the voting day as I covered the sign-in table when a co worker went to lunch. They were pointing out problems and mentioned that WNYC asked voters to call or email in their opinions on the system. They made some sound observations about the layout of the room, lighting problems, etc. and while I agreed with them, I noted that we could not change anything that day, but hoped that improvements would be forthcoming in future elections. After a few minutes, I ascertained that they were your parents and I was thrilled to meet them. Our coordinator was in agreement with the voters and she said she would add the comments to her report. Not a great start to the new system, but a positive step was taken by the State.

Nov. 04 2010 12:19 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Suzanne, the machine scans both sides of the ballot at the same time, so you don't have to turn it over.

Nov. 02 2010 08:57 PM

If the ballot is on two sides wouldn't you have to turn the ballot over to scan both sides? And I agree that the privacy issue is the least of our worries. From the sound of it, the ballot was designed by idiots (party hacks?) and is such a train wreak many people will be confused and very likely disenfranchised. If you have to bring a magnifying glass and a flashlight in order to cast a vote -- it's hard to know what to say.

Nov. 01 2010 11:55 AM
bernie from bklyn

suzanne- yes, you're right-that's how they'd spin it.
but just like our interstate signage, it's has to be a federal standard. the states have proved over and over again that they can't handle that 'state right'.

Nov. 01 2010 11:54 AM
Mike from Tribeca

Christopher from brooklyn -- a fresnel lens? That's just plain loupy. ;-)

Nov. 01 2010 11:51 AM

@bernie from brooklyn
Don't you know -- that's socialism! Isn't that why Republicans are going to take over? To keep us safe from big government.

(You're right, of course, but it'll never happen because it makes too much sense. And people might actually vote.)

Nov. 01 2010 11:49 AM
tom from UWS

This question of privacy is rather an empty one: if the ballot is so hard to read that you need a magnifying glass and a flashlight, how do you suppose a worker is going to read your ovals without holding that ballot up to her face and carefully searching? It is so unlikely as to be nearly impossible that in the process of placing the ballot into the reader the marking and candidate names could be read or recorded by the eye of an election worker!

Can we stop worrying about that red herring?

Nov. 01 2010 11:47 AM
Amy from Manhattan

For privacy concerns, can't you just take the privacy sleeve with you to the scanner & hold it over the ballot as you scan it in so other people can't see how you voted?

Nov. 01 2010 11:45 AM
Christopher from brooklyn

For future reference, the flexible magnifying sheet is called a fresnel lens.

Nov. 01 2010 11:44 AM

This ballot is absurd. Why can't it be all electronic with a small paper receipt

Nov. 01 2010 11:44 AM
Mike from Tribeca

The press's coverage of the new ballot protocol reminds me of the hysteria of Y2K. It's not that complicated.

Nov. 01 2010 11:44 AM

Matthew - if whoever designed the ballot had done so to state law, the bubble would have been at the top of the box. simple. it's the designer's problem - not the law's

Nov. 01 2010 11:44 AM
Edward from NJ

I understand the desire for a paper trail, but any system that has one is fundamentally more complex -- more prone to confusion and mechanical difficulties than one without a paper component. An ATM style system would be much easier, and it would be easiest *without* a receipt. If an ATM style system prints receipts, you need to worry about paper jams, replacing paper/ink, and collecting the actual receipts. It's not a paper trail if everyone walks off with their receipts.

Nov. 01 2010 11:43 AM
john from office

Wow, the simple act of voting has been turned into a mess, requiring all this air time.

Nov. 01 2010 11:43 AM
Cricket from Manhattan

I noticed at the primary that there isn't the enlarged copy of the ballot posted at the polling place. I think this would eliminate some confusion.

Nov. 01 2010 11:42 AM
bernie from bklyn

why are ballots and the voting process as a whole a federal standard? there are anomolies and widespread problems in every state for every election. there should be ONE way to vote in this country-simple and sensible to avoid the influence and ignorance of state bureaucrats like brian's previous guest, ms.dent.

Nov. 01 2010 11:42 AM
Matthew from Astoria

Just to clarify: the problem is not in the design of the ballot, but only in the verbal instructions for filling it out.

Alas: If, as Brian just said, the instructions' wording is specifically mandated in state law, we have to get the Legislature to fix it. Lotsa luck with that ...

Nov. 01 2010 11:39 AM
Justin Krebs

One note about new ballots: if you vote for a candidate on more than one line (eg Democratic AND Working Families), it will only count for the Democratic vote count.

That's fine for the candidate (who gets the total of 2 lines) but hurts smaller parties.

Matt Damon recorded a video for Working Families Party explaining how to vote:

Nov. 01 2010 11:38 AM

who is designing these ballots? they're awful! my friend's 2-year-old can use an iPhone unassisted - yet an adult needs a lesson on how to use the ballot? maybe we need to get the people at Apple to help NY State with its graphics.

Nov. 01 2010 11:34 AM
Mike from Tribeca

I will miss the loud bam of the lever being pulled when casting my vote. It was the perfect symbol of noisy democracy in action.

Nov. 01 2010 11:23 AM
Jemal from Brooklyn

Everyday we move billions of dollars around using ATM's.  I don't understand why we can't reprogram a basic touchscreen ATM to vote in elections.  You get a receipt, just like at a regular ATM which you must sign to confirm your selections and you could allow for different text sizes for visually impaired.  I know there may be concerns about tampering, but the current systems seem to be far less reliable and we trust the systems to manage a financial system with trillions of dollars.

Nov. 01 2010 11:15 AM
Edward from NJ

At my polling place in NJ, they use electronic machines that mimic the mechanical lever machines. The layout is almost identical. Rather than pulling a little metal switch, you press a box under your candidate's name and an X lights up. They're really easy to use, particularly if you're used to the old machines.

Nov. 01 2010 11:14 AM
johnm from Manhattan

Where we can see tomorrow's ballot before voting?

Nov. 01 2010 11:12 AM
helena from NJ

WNYC should have a design contest for a new ballot :)

Nov. 01 2010 10:34 AM

Need to Know ran a very informative segment on this topic last week

Nov. 01 2010 09:08 AM

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