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July 21, 2008

General Election: Poor Ballot Design May Affect Election Results

  For everyone reading this post, if you can, please volunteer to be a poll worker in your community on November 4.  Contact you local election office and complete the application — please do this, it is important.

Poorly designed ballots continue to plague U.S. elections, even after Congress set aside $3 billion to overhaul voting systems to prevent a recurrence of the flawed Florida ballots that deadlocked the 2000 presidential race, a study out today concludes.

Problems with confusing paper ballots in 2002, absentee ballots in 2004 and touch-screen ballots in 2006 led thousands of voters to skip over key races or make mistakes that invalidated their votes, according to the study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

“In the big election meltdowns where thousands of votes were lost, ballot design was the primary cause,”says Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center.

Ballot designs could play a big role in mistakes made at the polls this fall because of an infusion of new voters who registered for this year’s presidential race and the introduction of new voting machines in parts of 11 states with 15 million potential voters. Since passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, states have spent more than $2 billion in mostly federal funds to overhaul their voting systems.

Congress approved spending of up to $3 billion because of problems in the 2000 presidential race in Florida. A deciding factor in that race was the confusion caused in Palm Beach County by the “butterfly ballot,” which required voters to punch a hole beside their candidate’s name in a strip between two facing pages that listed the presidential contenders.

Despite all the spending since then, mostly on new electronic voting systems, not enough attention has been paid to ballot design, the new study warns. “There has not been a documented instance where a computer has fouled up the vote by itself,” agrees Kimball Brace of the consulting firm Election Data Services.

The study’s conclusion, endorsed by many federal and state election overseers, is leading counties and election system manufacturers to improve ballot designs by the November election.

Starting this week in Ohio, ballot design experts will show officials how to avoid the kind of voter confusion in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in 2006.  More than 18,000 Sarasota County voters skipped that race, which appeared above a more prominently displayed race for governor on the same screen. Republican Vern Buchanan won the congressional race by 369 votes.

By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY





  1. The United States is — supposedly — the seat of modern democracy. Why is it that we still have all these problems with actual voting? Why is it that we still disenfranchise quite a lot of people? I really don’t understand it. It’s embarrassing.

    Comment by deannaizme — July 21, 2008 @ 5:42 pm | Reply

  2. Deanna — it’s shameful. AND we travel the globe trying to hold other countries to America’s standard. What standard??? How about holding us to our own standards here??? Crazy!

    Comment by Paulette — July 21, 2008 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  3. Automated Bank Machines can process millions of transactions without ever losing track of a fraction of a penny…

    That’s all I got.

    Comment by dougpastorek — July 21, 2008 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  4. Doug — that’s all we need. The election system in America stinks because the powers that be wants it that way… 😦

    Comment by Paulette — July 21, 2008 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

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