Election Wrap-up: Ballot Design

I like the noise of democracy.
--James Buchanan

There has been quite a bit of popular and scholarly interest in the mechanics of voting over the last decade, especially after the 2000 Florida Presidential election threw the concepts of butterfly ballots, residual votes and chads into the spotlight. The recount of the U.S. Senate race in Minnesota between Norm Coleman and Al Franken has brought the voting-error fun right on back. Minnesota Public Radio has compiled a list of challenged ballots for you to judge (via kottke). You can even use the Minnesota state statues governing voter's intent. I think the write-in for "Lizard People" is one of the best.

It is refreshing to see that in spite of all of the attention toward electronic voting problems, the old paper method can still make a mess. Things have changed a bit since the blanket ballots of the nineteenth-century, but ballot design still has quite a few problems. The most obvious case is the butterfly ballot of Palm Beach County in 2000 which almost certainly changed the outcome of the presidential election (see Wand, et al (2001)). Laurin Frisina, Michael Herron, James Honaker, and Jeff Lewis recently published an article in the Election Law Journal about undervoting in Florida's 13th Congressional District, a phenomenon they attribute to poor (electronic) ballot design. Other examples abound.

The good folks at AIGA put together an interactive guide for designing ballots and the problems with current designs. A lot of these suggestions are really spot on and would help to solve a lot of the errors in the Minnesota ballots. Especially important are the "if you make a mistake..." guidelines. This was posted at the New York Times in late August, which seems to me to be plenty of time for registrars to get these issues worked out. On the other hand, some of the Minnesota ballot problems do seem to transcend clear design. Depressingly, this probably brings a smile to faces of anti-plebian elites.

If you are a sucker, like me, for images of old ballots, you can find plenty of old California ballots at the voting technology project. Melanie Goodrich put this together. The real gem of this collection is the Regular Cactus Ticket of 1888.

Posted by Matt Blackwell at November 19, 2008 2:10 PM