Demand a better ballot

Election Day is finally here, and as ballots are cast and counted, I’m hopeful that voters will declare victory for the candidates and measures that I care most about. But as I review my sample ballot in preparation for my visit to the voting booth, I am discouraged to find that it includes many of the design flaws that the AIGA’s Design for Democracy project has been working to expose and eliminate over the past 8 years. As AIGA reports on their website:

“In July 2007 the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) accepted AIGA Design for Democracy’s research and best practice recommendations for ballot and polling place information design. Guidelines and editable samples were distributed to 6,000 election officials across the country this January. As a result, local jurisdictions now have the tools to apply communication design principles and make voting easier and more comprehensible for all citizens.”

Why, then, am I holding a ballot that violates at least three of the Top 10 election design guidelines, including the use of all caps, center-alignment, and tiny fonts?


As Marcia Lausen notes in Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design, typographic specifications are often dictated in well-intentioned but misguided election law. So while the valuable work of Design for Democracy is to be commended, it alone is not enough to bring about the change we need in the design of ballots and other voter information and materials.

So as you head to the polls, review your ballot carefully — not only for its content, but for its design. Make note of the ballot’s flaws, and contact your state and county registrar and representatives to press them to implement the AIGA guidelines. In addition, consider participating in the Polling Place Photo Project, which seeks to document what is politely described as the “richness and complexity" of the voting experience in America.

Most of all, don’t forget to vote!

1 Comment

Alex Long
Good advice. I was just reading about Design for Democracy and the history of voting technology recently. You'd think that ballot designs would have changed dramatically over the years, but they haven't. While paper ballots were used in colonial America, the Australian ballot or secret ballot wasn't instituted in the U.S. until the late 1880s in response to rampant voter fraud. By then, ballot boxes were being designed to ensure an honest vote. Sound like familiar concerns? (Can we really trust electronic voting systems by Premier Election Solutions AKA Diebold?) Clearly we need to improve how we design ballots, voting machines and voter information guides. Seeing how ballots and voting technologies have changed over the last four elections from paper to machine back to paper is a little jarring. It reminds me of that old saw: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Implementing the AIGA guidelines would be a good start.

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