Skip Navigation
Press Release

Brennan Center Publishes New Guide to Designing Voter-Friendly Ballots

Confusing ballot layouts can result in lost votes and other voter errors on Election Day.

February 7, 2020
Contact: Rebecca Autrey, Media Contact,, 202-753-5904

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law has published Common Ballot Design Flaws and How to Fix Them, a collection of five ballot layouts that have resulted in voter confusion and lost votes, annotated with tips for more effective designs.   

“If a ballot has a confusing layout, it can have a substantial impact on the result of the election, to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of votes,” said Lawrence Norden, one of the authors of the ballot collection and director of the Brennan Center’s Electoral Reform Program. “Election officials have time before the 2020 election to ensure that their ballots are accessible and usable for all voters, and to avoid the kinds of designs that lead to lost votes.” 

The Brennan Center collaborated with the Center for Civic Design on the ballot collection. The Center for Civic Design contributed tips for improving ballot layout and readability, including font selection and clarifying ballot instructions.

One of the ballots in the collection was used in the 2018 election in Broward County, Florida. Its designers put some of the contests underneath the ballot instructions in the same column, which can cause some voters to miss those contests. In Broward County, the Senate race placed under the instructions had approximately 25,000 fewer votes than the race for governor, which was in a column without instructions. The margin of victory in the Senate race was approximately 10,000 votes.

To avoid this problem, Common Ballot Design Flaws and How to Fix Them recommends positioning the directions at the top of the page, spread horizontally, with the contests in columns underneath.

The Florida Secretary of State proposed a new design rule for ballots last month. On Monday, the Brennan Center and the Center for Civic Design filed a public comment on the rule, recommending edits to language guiding the layout of instructions and columns.

The comment also suggests that the rule provide for circumstances when all of the candidates in a race can’t fit in a single column. The authors propose requiring election officials to make reasonable efforts to alert voters that the ballot has more candidates or text. One solution is to place notifications like “more candidates in the next column” or “see more in the next column” at the end of a column but before the end of contest information.

The Brennan Center and the Center for Civic Design also recommend that Florida’s rule require that electronic voting machines display no more than one contest per screen and use the same font for the names of all candidates in the same contest.  

Common Ballot Design Flaws and How to Fix Them features examples of other frequent shortcomings in ballot design, such as publishing sample ballots that differ from the actual ballots. It is accompanied by two other new resources, Ballot Design Guidance for Election Officials and How to Design Better Ballots.

Click here to read Common Ballot Design Flaws and How to Fix Them.

For more on the Brennan Center’s election security work, click here.