Having lived in Florida during the era of hanging chads and butterfly ballots, I became involved with the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition‘s efforts toward improving the voting procedure. We had some success, although while we were trying to take advantage of the rare period of public interest to make meaningful changes toward improving accessibility and inclusion, here were certain business and political elements working to obfuscate those efforts. In the end, the best which can be said is that the system was changed from one with old, well-established inefficiencies and flaws, to one with new, less-obvious inefficiencies and flaws.
While I am no longer involved with MDERC — nor living in Florida, for that matter — the voting process remains a topic of keen interest to me. This is one reason why I chose to back the Kickstarter project to create Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent.
The creation of a voting system capable of accurately reflecting the voter’s intent is inherently a design problem, albeit a design problem complicated by the realities of the political arena. To quote from the first Field Guide, Designing Usable Ballots:
What a ballot looks like is constrained by legislation, technology, history, custom, cost, and other factors. But the anatomy of a ballot is fairly consistent throughout the more than 3,000 counties, parishes, and boroughs in the U.S.
While most of the guidelines indicated are simple, even obvious, to someone with a knowledge of design, remember that the people determining how you vote seldom if ever know those principles. The purpose of the Field Guides project is to place this information in front of those officials and administrators responsible for the voting process.
All Americans — and many others, as well — will benefit from knowing how the process could be improved. However, some of you reading may be responsible for this process, in part or in whole. Take a moment and look over the first four Field Guides. (They are free to download.) Think about the last time you voted, and compare that experience to the guidelines suggested here. If there is room for improvement — and it’s hard to image there isn’t — consider sending your local Department of Elections a link to the Field Guide site.