We can fly a man to the moon, but we can’t design an effective ballot. What gives?
It’s amazing to know that we, as American citizens, cast votes to elect our officials; however, it’s equally disappointing when your experience at the polls is nothing short of confusing.
Earlier today, I cast my vote at my local polling place. Having done this for several elections, a few things stuck out:
- many voters didn’t know what precinct was theirs,
- others were unfamiliar with the voting process, and, most importantly,
- the ballot appeared to be designed by a third-grader.
And “designed” is used generously. Shouldn’t this be simpler?
Ballots should be designed for two things:
- Legibility: Know your audience and assume that voters will have a difficult time reading small or light type. Typefaces matter!
- Ease-of-use: The last thing a voter should be when reading a ballot is confused. Keep the design as simple as possible while still communicating key information.
That’s it. A legible, easily understood ballot will make for a much better polling experience – which should be more a celebration than a frustrating nuisance!
How do we guarantee this result? A few design enhancements can go a long way.
First, we must separate key blocks of information. The federal election, state election, and local races and questions should all be given ample white space in between each other. Similarly, each candidate should be clearly marked and given air to breathe. Cramming several candidates into less space may save paper, but doesn’t provide a satisfying experience to the voting public.
Work under the assumption that this will be everyone’s first vote. Perhaps the presidential area of the ballot comes with a line of text reading, “Vote for one of the following presidential candidates. If you vote for more than one, your vote will not count.”
For local elections (perhaps state representatives), ballots might read, “Vote for one of the following state representatives. State representatives work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and represent districts across the state.”
This seems overly simple, but can help voters feel more confident about their voting responsibility.
My ballot used similarly-sized type for the entire document. There was no dominant element and all of the information held similar weight.
Altering the headline size on a ballot can make a huge difference. Each section (federal, state, local) should have its own heading, all of consistent size. The next level of information (the candidates’ names) should have a smaller type treatment. Finally, supporting information like a candidate’s party, address, or explanatory text for a question should have a tertiary treatment and size. The size and weight of type should work like a funnel or headline structure for a web page.
Just as it’s the responsibility of Americans to cast an educated vote, it’s just as important for local and state governing bodies to design a simpler voting process.
With so much cynicism surrounding the voting process, the experience must be made simpler and more enjoyable. Americans should feel empowered every four years, not frustrated and pressured.
In short: save the ballot and save our elections!