US election field guides

design-for-good, voting

With US elections looming large, and the spectre of the Florida hanging chads debacle of 2000 no doubt still in their minds, the folks at have developed a set of four field guides to help election officials design, write and test ballot papers to ensure that when it comes to voting day, the vote a voter makes is the one they mean.

Projects 'for good' like this aren't a new phenomenon, but in most cases there is an attempt to create a single solution that can be adopted – so why not in this case?

Well, when in doubt, ask Dana Chisnell, the driving force behind the field guides and expert on ballot and usability design, explained that "There is not a standard approach across the US to ballot design" meaning no solution would work everywhere.

The reasons for the different systems stem from the 10th Amendment to the Constitution (way back in 1791) which says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people" or, as Dana puts it "anything we haven't covered in here is up to the states to decide on".

Because of this, each state, and even the counties within it, have adopted their own ballot designs over time, which have in turn developed based on the available technology, money and legislation (which is also run at state level). In summary "voting in the US is *much* more complex than it is nearly any place else on the planet."

The range of constraints presented by over 3, 000 counties means a single perfect solution isn't really viable, so rather than try and create the holy grail of ballot design, the guides will hopefully help those in charge work within their various constraints to deliver a controversy-free election this time.

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