Ballot design may have sullied Broward County election results

The Broward County election debacle illustrates (pun intended) the importance of design in our everyday lives

Holly: Election workers are slogging through a laborious and expensive recount in Florida as the races for U.S. Senate, governor and commissioner of agriculture are too close to call.

There’s also some weirdness in the results. In Broward County, for starters, a ridiculous percentage of voters  – 3.7 percent – left the Senate vote box blank. Zounds! That’s a lot of “undervoting.”

In typical fashion, there’s the partisan mudslinging. But the fact is, the race may have been sullied by poor ballot design.

Mark Wilson of Fast Company sums up that scenario:

“Every county across the U.S. is allowed to design their own voting ballot. In the case of Broward County, the ballot begins with a long list of instructions on how to vote. Right below this long column sits the Senate race box. It’s plausible that voters who skimmed the instructions may have skipped right over the Senate race box. Their eyes went straight to the governor’s race instead, which appears clearly on the top of the page, one column over from the instructions.”

This explanation is picking up a great deal of credible steam from main stream media – and more significantly – from design experts.

It also underscores how essential good design is in our everyday lives. This is why OU’s media and graphic design students are made acutely aware that designers need to embrace not only best practices, but also a code of ethics that encourages them to think about how the work they produce impacts the people who see, and use it.  People, for instance, who fill out ballots.

Whitney Quesenbery, a ballot expert and co-director of the Center for Civic Design, says the ballot design certainly could be the cause of the inconsistencies in the race.

“People can and do make mistakes based on design,” she told reporters at the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

In fact, the CCD has a unit in its design field guide entirely devoted to ballot design best practice. The mandates include universally accepted rules such as using lowercase lettering and avoiding centered type, both of which compromise user interface.

Quisenbery is also the author “The High Stakes of Voter Ballot Design.” It’s a beautifully organized and illustrated AIGA article that makes a clear case about the importance of a design job where “tiny mistakes can ignite a constitutional crisis.”

Hopefully the Florida debacle doesn’t escalate into such an event, but yeah, we can now see her point.

Below, exhibit A: the printed culprit.

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