HGov: Confusing Ballot Design and Instructions

Confusing Ballot Instructions

Our mock general election inadvertently stumbled across an issue concerning confusing ballot design and instructions. Many of the questions raised were similar to the debate on the Bush versus Gore presidential campaign.

The United States presidential election took place on November 7, 2000 throughout all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Florida, a swing state, had a major recount dispute that took center stage in the election. Thus, the outcome of the 2000 United States presidential election was not known for more than a month after balloting, because of the extended process of counting and then recounting of Florida presidential ballots. State results tallied on election night gave 246 electoral votes to Republican candidate George W. Bush and 255 to Democratic nominee Al Gore, with New Mexico (5 votes), Oregon (7 votes), and Florida (25 votes) too close to call that evening. The available electoral votes in all three states meant that at that point, the result in Florida was all that mattered, and even when both New Mexico and Oregon were declared in favor of the eventual loser Gore over the following few days, the drama in Florida uniquely dragged out for several weeks before eventually settling the election for the entire nation. After an intense recount process and the decision of Bush v. Gore, Governor George W. Bush officially won Florida’s electoral votes and as a result, the entire presidential election. The process was extremely divisive, and led to calls for electoral reform.

Confusing Voting MachineYet, ironically, years after the 2000 election, and billions of dollars spent on new voting technology, the problems caused by poor ballot design have not been fully and effectively addressed on a national level. Year in and year out, we see the same mistakes in ballot design, with the same results. There are thousands of voters disenfranchised by confusing ballot design and instructions, raising serious questions about whether the intended choice of the voters was certified as the winner. When it comes to ensuring that votes are accurately recorded and tallied, there is an argument that poor ballot design and confusing instructions have resulted in far more lost votes than software glitches, programming errors, or machine breakdowns. Poor ballot design and instructions have caused the loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of votes in nearly every election year.

While all groups of voters are affected by poorly designed ballots and badly drafted instructions, these problems disproportionately affect low income voters, new voters, and elderly voters. All too often, the loss of votes and rate of errors resulting from these mistakes are greater than the margin of victory between the two leading candidates. Problems caused by poor ballot design and instructions recur in American elections, regardless of the type of voting technology used. Some have dismissed the degree to which poor ballot design undermines democracy by arguing that voters only have themselves to blame if they fail to properly navigate design flaws. This is unfair. Candidates should win or lose elections based upon whether or not they are preferred by a majority of voters, not on whether they have the largest number of supporters who, — as a result of education and experience, have greater facility navigating unnecessarily complicated interfaces or complex instructions, or because fewer of their supporters are elderly or have reading disabilities. Nor should candidates win elections because ballot designs happened to make it more difficult for voters supporting their opponents to accurately cast their votes.

1) Finish reading Chapter 12 – by Monday 11/23



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