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Help Us, Help Dana

Dana ChisnellDana Chisnell believes that democracy is a design problem. After the 2000 Presidential election with its “butterfly ballot” in Florida, Dana began to creates a set of best practices to help election officials. Dana discovered that the designer of the butterfly ballot wanted to do the right thing. This designer knew her county had older people, so she wanted to make the type bigger, which would make it easier to read.

Making that well-intentioned change to the design of the ballot did make it easier to read. But it made it harder to use. Thousands of people voted in a way in which they did not intend. And it changed the election results. Watch this short video as Dana explains how ballot designs affect everyone.

Even though every state has new voting systems since the 2000 Presidential election, we still hear from voters that they weren’t sure they voted as they intended. We hear from election administrators that recounts are difficult to manage because they have to interpret voter intent on thousands of ballots. Many of these issues could be resolved by applying simple design principles based on data.

Good Progress, More Work Needed

The US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has been working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology for years to make voting systems more usable and accessible. Some great guidelines for basic ballot design from AIGA’s work for the EAC.

But ballots aren’t designed by designers. They’re designed by systems and laws. Counties and states adopt alternative counting methods to eliminate run-off elections. Local jurisdictions will also soon have a huge cohort of voters who are over age 60. Census data tell us that more states than ever must include at least 2 languages on ballots.

Unless we give local election officials data to work from and guidelines to use, these excellent public administrators will lack tools for preventing the “butterfly ballot” from happening again. And then where will we be?

Give a Few Dollars, Make a Huge Difference

Dana’s goal is to publish a series of field guides — each one will hold brilliantly researched, guideline gems and examples about a specific and far-too-common ballot design problem. The form factor is designed for the busy county election official to pick up and within minutes learn useful, field-researched, critical ballot design techniques that help ensure that every vote is cast as voters intend.

Election officials are already excited to get their hands on these books as they ramp up for the 2012 Presidential election. The guides build on research-based design guidelines developed by the US Election Assistance Commission that local election officials have been using for years.

Can the perfect ballot be designed? Yes!

The research behind the field guides will focus on multi-language ballots, vote-by-mail, voting and older adults, and alternative counting methods–design issues previously untouched by data.

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