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larry norden @LarryNorden
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THREAD: A few thoughts on the huge undervote in the Florida Senate contest in Broward County. The most likely cause was either a ballot design or voting machine problem. We won't know for sure until there is a recount. But...
As @whitneyq has pointed out putting a contest in the lower left hand corner of a ballot, below vertical instructions violates best practices described in the EAC/AIGA guidance on ballot design.…
Could this design account for all of those lost votes? Again, I do not dismiss the possibility that the lost votes could be caused by machine error. We've seen machine error (on this very model of machine) cause lost votes before.…
That problem resulted in overvotes, not undervotes being recorded, however.
Sadly, we know from experience that ballot design can cause the loss of undervotes (even tens of thousands of undervotes, as we seem to have in Broward County).
The benefit of having voter marked paper ballots is that if there is a machine error, we can go back and look at the paper and figure out voter intent. If the problem is the ballot design, and tens of thousands of voters just didn't see the contest, nothing can be done.
@whitneyq and I wrote a whole report with @kimballdc and my colleague Margaret Chen looking at how poor ballot design can cause lost votes. It happens far too often! You can see examples from around the country between 2000 and 2008 here:…
Sadly, two of the most high profile ballot design mistakes occurred in Florida. The Palm Beach butterfly ballot (which may have flipped control of the Presidency in 2000) and a confusing ballot design in Sarasota (which may have flipped control of a Congressional seat).
It's not just ballot design. Poor design of other materials like absentee envelopes can also cause lost votes. This may be one reason we've seen reports of lots of absentee ballots going uncounted this election. Whitney, David and I provide examples:…
One question I have about Florida. In Better Ballots we note that "since 2000, the Florida Secretary of State has developed detailed ballot design
regulations for each brand and model of voting system used in the state....
...These regulations include images of sample ballots that can be used as templates by the counties." Were those images provided this year? Did Broward County and other counties follow them?
The idea that poor ballot design could be determinative in a pivotal Senate contest is incredibly frustrating. Candidates should win or lose elections based on whether they are preferred by a majority of voters. What can be done to prevent problems in the future?
There are several ideas in Better Ballots, but two steps that I would recommend: create and use a checklist of best practices, and conduct usability testing of materials before finalizing them. @civicdesign has fantastic resources for all of this: FIN
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