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Ballot Library—Hamilton County

Election officials presented voters with the following ballot in Illinois’ Hamilton county in November 2002 for the midterm election, an optical scan ballot that displayed three columns of candidates and offices on a single page.

Published: July 21, 2008
(Click on ballots to view a larger file with more detail.)

Original Ballot

Elec­tion offi­cials presen­ted voters with the follow­ing ballot in Illinois’ Hamilton county in Novem­ber 2002 for the midterm elec­tion.

The prob­lem: Response option­s—the incom­plete arrows voters are supposed to fill in, connect­ing the head and the tail, in order to vote for a candid­ate—have been placed on either side of a candid­ate’s name. This is often the case with optical scan ballots that display two or three columns of candid­ates and offices on a single page.

The races at the top of the first and second columns line up exactly. Read­ing left-to-right, many voters mistakenly marked the arrow to the right of a candid­ate’s name instead of the arrows to the left. Although the ballot instruc­tions direct voters to complete the arrows to the left of their choices, there are few visual cues on the page. The small amount of space between columns makes it hard for voters to tell which arrow corres­ponds with the candid­ate for whom they’d like to vote.

The result: The resid­ual vote rate for the U.S. Senate race in Hamilton County was 9.3%, compared to the statewide rate of 4.5%. This prob­lem also affected the Governor’s race. Hamilton County had a 5.0% resid­ual vote in that race, compared to 3.1% statewide.

Improved Ballot

One way to address this prob­lem would have been to visu­ally “box” the candid­ates with their respect­ive response arrows, or to provide a clear space between the columns. Either would have decreased the like­li­hood of voter error. 

Re-Designed “Ideal” Ballot

This ballot takes into account a major­ity of the recom­mend­a­tions from the study. 

good ballot