Center for Civic Design pushes for an easier, standardized ballot

by Nov 7, 2016Elections, Headlines0 comments

In the past few weeks, questions have been raised about the integrity of the American presidential election. Allegations of faulty voter machines, voter fraud, and voters being registered in multiple states and even staying registered after death have found their way to news headlines. There is a sense that the system is not getting the voter participation it could (voter turnout in the US is substantially lower than most developed countries) and that there exist outdated, archaic barriers to US citizens expressing their right to vote.  Groups like FairVote and the Brennan Center for Justice are pushing for structural electoral reform. One group that has been researching and working towards voter reform is the Center for Civic Design, non-profit organization that works to improve voter experiences by bettering design elements in voter information guides, ballots, poll worker materials, and other election forms.

Led by co-directors, Dana Chisnell and Whitney Quesenbery. The center has made various design innovations that could find their way into future American elections and make voting easier for people who find the process difficult or hard to understand.

One of the reforms the center pushing is the “Anywhere Ballot” a system that would enable voters to vote on a personal device they already owned.

The center has identified noticeable patterns of issues with ballots that need change. Poor ballot design leads to residual voting, a situation in which voters unintentionally overvote or undervote because they do not understand the layout of the ballot in front of them. The design of ballots in states is not easily changed either, as elected officials will often be reluctant to change the design of the ballots. Afterall, they were elected on those ballot designs. In fact, most of the regulations on ballot design, type, and font come from the late nineteenth century and remain only marginally revised.  Furthermore, cost remains a concern for many states, many of which opt for more shorter and condensed ballots that can crowd information on small pieces of paper and confuse voters. Ballot problems persist in many states and demand addressing.

The design principles behind the Center for Civic Design’s Anywhere Ballot include: simplistic, minimalist interfaces and language and accessibility accommodations for those who need them.

Below is an example of the format of the anywhere ballot.


The anywhere ballot would be particularly useful for low literacy voters(a previously ignored voter audience) or for those who have mild cognitive disabilities. Though vote casting through personal device is in the future, the current work towards prototyping an accessible, responsive,web standards-compliant front end for ballot marking will be essential to improving voter interfaces and standardizing the process.

In addition to the work the center has done for restructuring the ballot, the center also guided candidates for office and local counties on how to make their election websites more accessible and has worked on specific guides and pamphlets guiding electoral staff and new voters. The  Center hopes that these efforts and the longer term goals of publicizing the anywhere Ballot and standardized electronic ballots will effect the American elections for the better and begin to restore some of the lost faith in the reliability of the American voting system.

photo credit: meloukhia California Proposition 63, Recreational Cannabis via photopin (license)