Civic Design

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Guidance on language on ballots

When I was in Olympia and Spokane talking with local election officials in May 2007, I heard a lot of concern about the wording of instructions and measures.


Instruction language is often controllable locally

While statutes or regulations may specify certain types of instructions that you must include on a ballot, often the wording is not constrained. Measures are a different story.


Guidelines exist!

There are some basic guidelines, for language on ballots, most recently a set by NIST ‘authored by Ginny Redish.


Using best practices drawn from several disciplines related to writing instructions, the Ginny reviewed 100+ paper ballots from all
U.S. states and Washington, D.C. covering three different elections, along with sample ballots on three DREs. On the DREs Ginny also reviewed navigation instructions and information and error messages.


Nearly all the ballots reviewed violated some best practices. Just some of the 20 practices that ballots are not following include using familiar common words, using short sentences, putting instructions in logical order, telling people about consequences before they act, and explaining the context before telling people what to do.


Download the two NIST documents on ballot language
. Use the guidelines on your ballots. And tell us how well your ballots do in usability tests.

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