Civic Design

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Dear New York, please let me correct my ballot

The Usability Professionals' Association (UPA) Voting and Usability Project and the Brennan Center for Justice are urging the New York State Board of Elections to change the interaction and a message on the state's new voting systems.

The issue: New York is changing from using mechanical lever machines to optical scan ballots. This change is good. However, with New York's particular ways of voting that include cumulative voting, it seems likely that some voters will vote too many times in a given contest. Florida saw some of this with a similar configuration; after some counties changed the system configuration to return overvoted ballots to voters, overvotes went down while the number of ballots cast remained constant.

Right now, the systems are configured to hold the ballot in the tabulator when it detects an overvote or undervote, while showing the voter a message on a small screen.

  The message voters get when they mark their ballots for too many candidates on a contest, while the tabulator holds the ballot

This would be remedied by a clear message from the tabulating machine as it pushes the ballot back out for the voter to review and change, if she wants. But these systems hold the ballot while the voter reads a poorly worded message to decide what to do. 

The New York State Board of Elections argues that the tabulator returning the ballots automatically will slow voting. The Brennan Center and UPA argue that when the machine holds the ballots, voters are more likely to let the flawed ballot be cast. This means that vote on that contest will not count, which is likely to disenfranchise thousands of voters and call results into question.

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