The importance of ballot design.

The way things look.
Oct. 6 2003 3:25 PM

Wanted: A Legible Voting Ballot

Why it's time to redesign the ballot design process.

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Ballot B: Hugh Dubberly narrows the field

Hugh Dubberly, an interaction designer in San Francisco, simplified the type treatments, arrows, and boxes in his proposed Ballot B and also moved the column in which voters mark their choice to the left side of the page next to the candidate names, arguing that their proximity would minimize voting errors. He also proposed a somewhat radical solution to the 133-name-crunch problem by only printing the names of the serious candidates—the ones who'd participated in the final debate.

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Ballot C: Sean Adams' color-coded ballot

Like the other designers, the Los Angeles-based Sean Adams (a descendant of John as well as Thomas Jefferson) reined in the sample ballot's typography to create Ballot C. He also focused on color—an election code no-no—as a way to clearly separate distinct categories of information like name and party affiliation. (Interestingly, the "I voted. Have you?" tagline almost works when it's set in this more colorful layout.)

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Of course, ballot design is but one part of the voting process. As our redesigners echoed, a pretty ballot won't be terribly useful if the machines are faulty or the polling place is far away or the poll workers can't find your name. The reality is that the whole voting experience could use a redesign. Election officials should spend some time at Starbucks, the company that turned an overpriced commodity into an empire by focusing on its customers' experience. Imagine if all polling places had an inviting, recognizable logo; if they were well lighted and comfortable; if they offered an intuitive environment with clearly presented information. Maybe voters could get a free cup of coffee, too.

Correction, Oct. 7, 2003: The article originally misidentified Dade as the Florida county where the infamous butterfly ballot was employed in the 2000 presidential election. The ballot was used in Palm Beach County, not Miami-Dade County. (Return to the corrected paragraph.)

Jessie Scanlon is a freelance writer in New York City and a contributing editor at Wired.

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