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Ballot Library

From the “Ballot Design Study,” core findings, recommendations as well as ballots from four counties illustrating past design flaws that may have affected elections.

Published: July 21, 2008

logoDesign matters. And ballot design matters greatly. Flawed ballot design and instructions have led to hundreds of thousands of lost votes over the last several elections.

These problems frustrate voters, undermine confidence and contribute to many Election Day problems, long lines included. Unfortunately, this issue has not received the public attention it deserves, even after the infamous butterfly ballot from Florida in 2000. Consequently, poor ballot design remains a serious potential problem in this November’s elections. However, the good news is that there are several steps that CAN BE TAKEN NOW to avoid the mistakes that have cost so many votes in the past. And these steps need not be particularly complicated, time consuming or expensive.


The following four ballots (see below) illustrate design problems. They are part of a study (the “Ballot Design Study”) by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The Center examined historical examples of ballot design and instruction flaws that have led to high voter error rates in the last several elections, and used this data to reach a series of policy conclusions and recommendations for improved ballot design (see here for core findings and recommendations).

In conducting its analysis, the Brennan Center relied on the expertise of usability professional Whitney Quesenbery and political scientist David Kimball, as well as a Task Force of the nation’s leading election officials, usability experts, designers, voting system experts and political scientists.

As the study shows, while such snafus affect all voters, they disproportionately affect certain groups of citizens, including older voters, new voters and low-income voters.


Ballot Library – Past Ballot Design Problems

“Residual” or “lost” votes are typically calculated as the difference between the number of people voting and the number of valid votes cast for a particular office. In reviewing recent elections with unexpectedly high lost vote rates, we invariably found flawed ballot designs or instructions. Four examples are included here, three paper and one touch screen (Sarasota County).

Select one of the following counties to see actual ballots with flawed designs or sets of instructions. Click a ballot for a larger view or, in most instances, scrolling over a ballot will help illustrate the flaw. We then offer improved ballots. These examples further show how steps to correct these ballots need not be overly complicated or expensive.

If you are an election administrator, representing a state, county or other jurisdiction and would like guidance for best design practices for November’s ballot from our Task Force, you may email us for assistance at Please attach recent ballot designs or drafts for November.