Study participant marking a redesigned New York ballot

How ballots get that way: a collection of quick reads

Some designers, especially user experience designers (called UX designers), love a good teardown. It goes like this: There’s a wrong in the world that might have originated with something that was poorly designed. Soon, there are any number of essays and articles that deconstruct the design with commentary and critique.

At the Center for Civic Design, we expected a big reaction from designers in the aftermath of the midterm elections in 2018 when it became clear that around 25,000 voters who cast ballots in Broward County, Florida had not voted for U.S. Senator, possibly because of how the ballot was designed. If you are a New York City voter, you might be feeling like you want to do a redesign of your ballot, too. We hear you. We even wrote about ballot design from the 2018 midterm election in the Washington Post.

If this sounds like you, may we suggest some light background reading to set context and so you have some idea about constraints before you get started.

Resources on why ballots are designed the way they are

Why U.S. elections are the way they are.

Tech in elections administration.

Making voting universal.

The difference between the experience that privileged voters have and burdened voters have. (There’s a video of Dana Chisnell talking about this, too.)

Showcases of EXCELLENT work BY election officials across the country.

Yes, there is a federal commission. They publish guidance and standards for voting systems and election administration. You might be interested in the voting system certification process.

And, yes! Ballot design standards! There’s a recommended federal design system for ballots, and some states have ballot standards outside what is required in their legislation.

Much data is collected about how elections get run.

Maybe you’d like some popular press pieces to put in your Instapaper or Pocket.

The high stakes of ballot design, again featuring the brilliant Whitney Quesenbery.

If you made it this far, you deserve a treat. A fantastic talk by Whitney about ballots that fool voters.

For New York voters, we’ve been looking at your ballots for a while, and we’ve thought a lot about your voting experience.

If listening is more your thing, try these:

If you still want to work on ballot design, start by learning how elections work from the inside: Please sign up to be a poll worker in the next election. It’ll be the best field research you’ve ever done.

People who did the work in the references above included: Whitney Quesenbery, Dana Chisnell, Drew Davies and Oxide Design Co., Maggie Ollove, Taapsi Ramchandani, Colin MacArthur, Nancy Frishberg, Ethan Newby, Ginny Redish, Cyd Harrell, Keela Potter, Kelsey Lim, plus dozens of volunteers, hundreds of election officials, and thousands of voters and not-yet-voters.