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!

Suzy Thompson

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