Civic Design

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Plain language makes a difference: Voters are more likely to vote as they intend when ballot instructions are simple and clear

How well do voters and poll workers understand the language of ballots and voting system instructions?

Today the National Institute of Standards and Technology released its report of a carefully controlled quantitative study in which 45 US adults over a range of ages and education levels each voted two ballots that differed only in the wording and presentation of the ballot instructions. The participants also discussed and compared specific pages from the two ballots. Janice (Ginny) Redish, Ph.D. led the study. She found that:

  • Voters voted more accurately on a ballot with plain language instructions than on a ballot with traditional instructions.
  • Voters with less education made more errors in voting.
  • Voters could tell the difference and preferred the plain language ballot by a wide margin.
See the full report here:, or go to

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