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The Importance of Good (Ballot) Design

Election Administration

As a clearinghouse of information to assist state and local election officials in their work to administer elections, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and its staff work to provide resources and best practices that address these and other important issues. Today, I’ll focus on the issue of ballot design and the question of how election officials across the nation can ensure ballots are designed effectively.

Throughout February, EAC staff spoke with ballot design experts and will soon add content to the Commission’s website to address new and emerging ballot design topics and complement the Commission’s 2007 report, Effective Designs for the Administration of Elections.

As we prepare new resources, it’s important to note that many of the best practices cited within the EAC’s 2007 report are still relevant and worth revisiting. The report offers best practices for the ballot design planning process and the design of election materials. The 2013 Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent series is an easy-to-use resource that highlights essential content from the EAC report and covers field-researched, critical election techniques for designing usable ballotswriting instructions that voters understand, and testing ballots for usability

How can election officials work with vendors to address ballot design? Ask a lot of questions. While vendors have worked to implement best practices from the EAC report and field guides, election officials should examine how closely these guidelines are being followed. Experts recommend partnerships between election officials and groups that know what is needed to help states and localities on the overall process.

What are some ballot design constraints? Ballot standards are important, but need to be realistic. While states have legislation on topics, such as ballot layout, type size and instructions, this may serve as a constraint. Experts state that many of these rules were put in place without extensive usability testing. Usability testing is how officials can discover voter frustration or confusion and catch ballot design challenges prior to Election Day.

Most voting systems do not work to optimize ballot design, so experts recommend that states are proactive and assist localities by working with vendors to come up with uniform standards. States can provide vendors with legislative requirements and vendors can reply with how their voting systems can meet these state requirements.

EAC staff is looking forward to working with these and other experts in the election community to share guidance on ballot design in the coming months.

Meanwhile check out some resources on our Designing Polling Place Materials webpage.


ballot, media, polling place, research blog