Funded! This project was successfully funded on April 14, 2012.

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Brilliantly researched guideline gems and examples about specific and far-too-common ballot design problems.

UPDATE April 12: What are the Field Guides going to cover? 

These are going to be Top 10s of design guidelines. Topics we plan to include:

  • Basic ballot design best principles 

  • Plain language in instructions and prompts 

  • Vote-by-mail 

  • Multi-language ballots 

  • Older voters 

  • Alternative counting methods (like ranked choice voting) 

  • Usability testing ballots 

  • Reporting usability test results

Any of these might change, but I doubt it. More likely that we'll add topics as we hear more from election administrators about what their design questions are. A boxed set is 12 of the lovelies, so ideally, we'll have 12 topics. But if we don't we promise to fill the boxes with super useful data-collecting, note-taking, and designing goodies. We're thinking that a LOT of these guidelines will apply to lots of other forms, both printed and online.

UPDATE April 9: What the additional funding will pay for

If you're thinking about backing this project but haven't done it yet, because, hey, the project has met the funding goal, here's my message for you: More, please! More money means more field guides, sent to more officials, making voting easier for more voters. Every dollar you contribute to the project goes directly to making every vote count the way the voter intends. 

In case you've been living under a rock and have missed the news, 2012 is a big election year. We can't afford to have this election decided by the courts. 

We need more funding to get the guidance out to the right people sooner. And, while we're delighted to have met the goal, we deliberately set the goal at an amount that would guarantee that the project would happen. But additional money is critical for the overall success of this project. 

Please. Don't let existing backers take all the glory. Get yours. Add your name to the major contributors and be a part of civic design history. 

UPDATE: We did it! We got to our goal. This is very exciting! 

The wonderful thing is, we still have time in our fundraising period, and I'm going to bet that a lot of people are going to want to be part of this project. With every additional dollar contributed to the project, the output just gets better. With more funds we can

  • print more copies of the Field Guides
  • do more research with more participants 
  • ship copies to more events that election officials are at
  • pay for more lunches and local transit for volunteers who help us do the research

Thank you to all the generous people who have already backed the project! You are wonderful. And thank you to the people who are about to back the project because you want to be part of something awesome. I look forward to hearing from you. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This project is pure awesome - happy to contribute.        

-Scott Berkun, author of Mindfire

Democracy is a design problem. 

This chapter started in the 2000 Presidential election with the "butterfly ballot" in Florida. The designer of that ballot just wanted to do the right thing. She knew she had older people in her county, so she wanted to make the type bigger, which would make it easier to read. 

Making that well-intentioned change to the design of the ballot did make it easier to read. But it made it harder to use. Thousands of people voted in a way in which they did not intend. And that changed everything.

Even though every state has new voting systems since the 2000 Presidential election, we still hear from voters that they weren’t sure they voted as they intended. We hear from election administrators that recounts are difficult to manage because they have to interpret voter intent on thousands of ballots. Many of these issues could be resolved by applying simple design principles based on data. 

The US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has been working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology for years to make voting systems more usable and accessible. We have great guidelines for basic ballot design from AIGA’s work for the EAC.

But ballots aren't designed by designers. They're designed by systems and laws. Counties and states adopt alternative counting methods to eliminate run-off elections. Local jurisdictions will also soon have a huge cohort of voters who are over age 60. Census data tell us that more states than ever must include at least 2 languages on ballots.

Unless we give local election officials data to work from and guidelines to use, these excellent public administrators will lack tools for preventing the "butterfly ballot" from happening again. And then where will we be? 

Our goal is to publish a series of field guides -- each one will hold brilliantly researched, guideline gems and examples about a specific and far-too-common ballot design problem. The form factor is designed for the busy county election official to pick up and within minutes learn useful, field-researched, critical ballot design techniques that help ensure that every vote is cast as voters intend.

Election officials are already excited to get their hands on these books as they ramp up for the 2012 Presidential election. The guides build on research-based design guidelines developed by the US Election Assistance Commission that local election officials have been using for years.

Can the perfect ballot be designed? We think so.  The research behind the field guides will focus on multi-language ballots, vote-by-mail, voting and older adults, and alternative counting methods--design issues previously untouched by data.

Updates! See who will do the work (Update #1), meet our mascot and see work from the wonderful illustrator Adam Connor (Updates #2 and #3), and hear from a state election official who designs voter-facing materials (Update #4) who desperately wants these field guides to be published. Watch this space for more updates as the project goes on. 

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