Design and the 2008 US Election

Could bad ballot design screw up the election of the next US President?

Humantific recently posted a short article about the ballots being used in New York State for the upcoming US General Election. In the article, the folks at Humantific take the ballot designers to task for having created a “sensemaking nightmare.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an image of the ballot, so all I have to go on his Humantific’s description. You can read it for yourself, and you’ll probably agree that it’s sub-optimal at very least.

It did surprise me a bit to see that ballot design seems to be a going concern and that there seems to be ongoing work on the topic. For example, AIGA has a project called Design for Democracy, that has resulted in a set of guidelines for the design ballots and polling stations. Surely this is a significant aspect of modern society, so it doesn’t really surprise me that someone‘s been worrying about it.

What does surprise me is that noone seems to be paying attention, even though it seems that 40% of people aren’t confident their votes would be accurately cast and counted. Indeed, while AIGA refers to their work as guidelines, the government apparently does not.

Especially considering what happened in Florida during the last Presidential Election, it rather figures the American organizations list the Election Assistance Commission would be working hard to pull together the design expertise needed to run a reliable and robust election (sorry for the alliteration there folks).

I don’t doubt that a proper ballot can be designed for a given population. Once again, what we have here is a failure to recognize the vital and pervasive impact that design can have on a society. So long as North America is unwilling to make proper design an ubiquitous part of its societies, we just won’t be able to get it right.

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