As the election creeps closer, voters have — hopefully — put more and more thought into who they are planning to vote for. Often overlooked, though, is how they are going to vote. There currently exists no federally standardized ballot design, an oversight that is at best disorganized and at worst a gateway to election malfeasance. Some states have voters draw lines or fill in bubbles, and the ballots themselves differ between paper ballots and electronic booths. The most high-profile case of ballot design gone awry is the 2000 election, in which Florida’s butterfly ballots led to over one thousand miscast votes. But 16 years later, America continues to use this bizarre patchwork system that confuses voters and disrupts the election process.
Poorly designed ballots can mislead voters and upset the voting system as a whole. In the 2000 presidential election, the infamous Floridian butterfly ballot confused voters as to which candidate they had voted for. Since George W. Bush’s ticket was at the top of the ballot, it was easier to find. Al Gore’s name, however, was third on the list, after the less relevant Reform candidate, Pat Buchanan. This construction confused many voters, leading them to mistakenly punch the hole for Buchanan, when they had really meant to vote for Gore. It is dangerous when ballots are flawed and vague like this, as it can compromise democracy and does not reassure the public in the legitimacy of the electoral process.
The solution to this issue is simple: institute a standardized ballot design nationwide. When the integrity of presidential and congressional elections is compromised due to a specific state’s shoddy design, it affects the country as a whole. This nationwide adoption of a federal standard wouldn’t even have a negative impact on the states’ right to legislative sovereignty. If anything, it would help the process. This would not be difficult to implement at all and could be done by creating a new, simplified ballot. Doing so would streamline the electoral process by decreasing state-to-state variability.
There is no excuse for poorly formatted ballots in this day and age. There are plenty of better ballots out there — The Anywhere Ballot, Center for Civic Design Ballot and the Professional Association for Design are just a few examples. A standardized system for ballots would be both practical and easy to implement. The utilization of tried and tested ballot designs offers greater clarity to voters and those who record votes. When ballots are systematically organized, lingering concerns about election fraud can be more easily dispelled. Every effort should be made to improve the current ballot system in order to make the voting process more conducive to everyone involved.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 7th print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]