Report: Bad ballot design cost U.S. 400,000 votes in 2008 and 2010

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 16:08 EDT
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The Brennan Center for Justice, a division of New York University’s School of Law has published a report discussing the huge numbers of votes that aren’t counted in each election because of mistakes by voters, most of which are caused by bad ballot design. The report outlines a set of directives that Secretaries of State all over the United States can adopt to ensure fairer, more accurate vote counts in elections.

It is estimated that some 400,000 votes were lost or miscounted in the 2008 and 2010 national elections because of voter errors, particularly in absentee and provisional ballots. Absentee and provisional voting are on the rise in the U.S., making clarity and ease of voting a priority in making certain that every person who has the right to vote is able to do so.

The Brennan Center is a “non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice,” meaning a group of lawyers and lawyers in training who work together to ensure fairness in elections, in courtrooms and in the pursuit and prosecution of the fight against global terrorism. The new report explains how poor design and layout of ballots costs thousands of citizens their vote in each election, and “outlines simple measures election officials can take before November to cure design defects and ensure every voter can cast a ballot that counts.”

Votes are lost every election because of common design flaws that make ballots difficult to follow. Some communities, particularly the elderly, the disabled and racial and ethnic minorities, are more prone to the errors that come about as a result of poor ballot design. One need only point to the mess in Florida in 2000 and the confusion among elderly and minority voters about the notorious “butterfly ballot” to understand why this is such a concern for voters and for election officials.

The Brennan Center finds, fortunately, that these issues are solvable. The report suggests that districts who are concerned with these issues make extensive use of the data available about lost votes in previous elections and create a checklist of best design practices. Then, the report advises extensive ballot testing, to make certain that people are able to vote for the officials they want, and that the ballot layout is intelligible. And finally, the report suggests that officials make voters aware ahead of time of any potential problems with their ballots.

You can read the full report, embedded below, via The Brennan Center:

Better Design Better Elections Slideshow

(image via Shutterstock)

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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