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.
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.