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Ballot Design

Sound design principles, along with better processes for creating and testing ballots, can prevent lost or erroneous votes.


After the notori­ous butterfly ballots in Flor­id­a’s Palm Beach County helped plunge the 2000 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion into turmoil, the United States over­hauled its elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion and voting tech­no­logy. Yet 19 years and billions of dollars later, poorly designed ballots continue to disen­fran­chise tens and some­times hundreds of thou­sands of voters.

Confus­ing ballot layouts and instruc­tions harm all voters, but low-income voters, new voters, and elderly voters most of all. All too often, the loss of votes and rates of errors caused by poor design exceed candid­ates’ margins of victory, cast­ing doubt on whether elec­tion outcomes always reflect voters’ inten­tions. Elec­tion offi­cials can take simple meas­ures to cure design defects and ensure that every vote counts.