You are here

Ballot design

Blog topics: 

With the US presidential election coming up, ballot design is starting to get some attention again. My local paper printed "Ballot design, new machines, instructions recipe for lost votes" (by Andrew Stengel and Lawrence Norden, but I cannot find the article online) in the Opinion section earlier this week. The article seems to have been triggered by a Brennan Center press release. The main point of the article is that there is now data about the number of "lost votes" (votes thrown away because of errors) that points to usability problems. That is, ballots that violate basic design principles cause more lost votes.

One of the recommendations for government officials is "Make necessary changes based on usability testing and public sample feedback". Cool!

That reminded me to check up on the Usability Professionals' Association Voting and Usability project. It had been a while since I took notice of the great work going on there. Something new appears to be the Local Election Officials testing kit.

So if you are a local elections official who has read the Toledo Blade article and you want to do some usability testing, check out the LEO testing kit. Also, if you need to hire help doing the usability testing, UPA has a list of usability consultants in Ohio. And then there is Better Ballots from the Brennan Center - and Whitney Quesenbery, a dear colleague. Ohio ballots and Ohio laws that impede usability are included.

(What I also found interesting is that most of the people who started the LEO kit are from right around here. Not from Ohio, but just up north: MSU Usability and Accessibility Center, University of Michigan and several Michigan companies.)

I am no expert in ballot design, but if you are a local election official who needs help understanding how to do usability testing on ballots, contact me and I will be more than happy to help you get started.


I cannot believe that I forgot to mention a local event in a few weeks about ballot design.

AIGA Toledo, Marcia Lausen, Design for Democracy, Friday, September 5, 2008, Noon, The Pinnacle.

A "must attend" event for local election officials who are serious about ballot design.

I still cannot find the Toledo Blade article from August 7th online to link to, but Mr. Norden did help me find two related articles:

The August 2008 UPA Voice includes 2 short articles about ballot design and usability:

Both are a clearer explanation of what I wrote about above. One new resource that I discovered was the Ballot Usability & Accessibility blog. I have added that to my feeds to help me stay up-to-date.

Finally getting around to reading the Ballot Usability & Accessibility blog, I noticed that Ohio election officials got usability training in July. (I assume this was part of their 2008 Summer Conference but I cannot find the conference agenda.) Thanks Josephine!

I looked for more information about this (such as mentions of actual testing for the 2008 election) but had no luck at the Secretary of state site or the Jennifer Brunner site.

I did find some (older) mentions of usability at the SOS site, which is encouraging:

They are testing ballots in Marin county. (Thanks for the link, Jared.)

“A Lesson Not Learned” (NY Times, July 24) rightly identifies the need to improve the design of election ballots but focuses mainly on long-term solutions. There is, however, something that every election district can do this year to reduce the likelihood of voter confusion: Make the ballots available just before they are locked into final form, and let ordinary citizens test them on the equipment that will be used on Election Day.