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Designers for Democracy?

I’m sure everyone on the planet has now heard of the impending voting fiasco in California. While it will certainly be entertaining to watch porn kings, political pundits, movie stars, and washed up child actors go at it, I do hope this is an event that will trigger a reaction in the US to finally change the way we count votes in this country. That said, I’ll refrain from adding any more political talk to Speak Up and instead focus on the problem at hand: attempting to make a fair and easy-to-use ballot for 100+ candidates.

This is where graphic designers can prove their worth. Who’s got some ideas to help out Kevin Shelly?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.13.2003 BY darrel
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Where's Tufte?

On Aug.13.2003 at 04:45 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Good question!

On Aug.13.2003 at 05:13 PM
Tan’s comment is:

AIGA Chicago went through a recent redesign of their entire voting process, not just the ballots.

It was triggered by the infamous butterfly ballot fiasco in Florida. Chicago wasn't to blame, but most of their districts had the same type of ballots, and the same demographics of older voters. So they proactive sought for change before history repeated itself.

I was simply amazed at how fucked-up a ballot can get. Nevermind Tufte theories of information architecture -- just start with simple, clear typesetting.

This is going to be fun watching Ahhnold become governor.

On Aug.13.2003 at 05:30 PM
David E.’s comment is:

Tan, that's because you dont live in California. To us, it's just embarrassing.

On Aug.13.2003 at 06:52 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Oh, it won't be so bad. MN survived Jesse Ventura just fine.

I do feel sorry for Davis though. The real shame is the process and obvious flaw in the state's electorate system. According to NPR, Davis could receive 49% of votes against a recall, yet in theory, would lose to Arnold, who only needs like 15% of the votes to win (as the most popular candidate among 350 others).

That's just stupid.

On Aug.13.2003 at 07:05 PM
Darrel’s comment is:


That's just not a problem with California. The same design flaw exists in most states' and the federal election systems. Rarely does a candidate need a majority of the votes, it simply needs more votes than the others. This allows a minority platform to win if the majority platform has more than one candidate.

With a little luck, the CA election will shine a bright light on the problem and hopefully we'll see more people pushing for better designed systems such as instant run off voting.

And yes, we Minnesotans did just fine with Jessie. I miss him. ;o)

On Aug.13.2003 at 08:20 PM
brook’s comment is:

The solution to a candidate winning with a %15 plurality of the vote is instant runoff voting. It's basically a system where you can vote your concsience, yet know that you won't spoil the election for the lesser of two evils. This site explains it quite well.

But yeah, I really hope this circus shows the rest of the country how big money has hopelessly corrupted our political system.

Electronic voting really worries me. They are thinking about testing internet voting with overseas military personnel. This is a horrible idea. There are thousands/millions? of hackers just waiting to take a shot at messing that up. I think there always needs to be a paper ballot. There were 94,000 people placed on a list to prevent them from voting in florida in 2000 because they were supposedly felons. Actually only 5000 were convicted felons, the others happened to share names with felons in a database, or were placed there for no reason whatsoever.

On Aug.14.2003 at 07:23 AM
brook’s comment is:

ah i see that you mentioned IRV already, D. There is actually a fairly strong push for it in Minnesota, since our governor race is always a plurality win.

tufte has an article about powerpoint in the new issue of wired. it's a good read. just think of how the king of info architecture could lash out at the worst piece of visual software ever.

On Aug.14.2003 at 07:26 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Brook -- thanks for the link. I'm familiar w/ IRV, but skeptical at its implementation. Not because I think the system is flawed, but because I think the public is too stupid for any true democracy. Thousands of geriatrics (and non-geriatrics) couldn't even punch a hole correctly in a simple ballot. Expecting them to rank candidates would be like getting a monkey to play Mozart.

I'm cranky this morning. A mountain of work to do. Checking out till later gents and ladies.

On Aug.14.2003 at 08:33 AM
Darrel’s comment is:


I'm veering off topic here, but what do you know about the push here in MN? I'd love to be a part of it.


Realize that part (not all) of the problem in Florida was clumsy ballots combined with a clumsy voting machine. That's where designers need to speak up a bit louder and step in with solutions. ;o)

The more I thought about the CA ballot, the more I realized that the ballot design is really constrained by the voting device. They've been talking of a 3 or 4 card ballot and I couldn't figure out why they couldn't just fit all of the candidates on one sheet until I realized they're still using the punch-booths out there. Ugh.

Regarding the 'too stupid' comment, I don't disagree. There's a lot of apathy combined with a lot of over-simplification of the issues in many voter's minds. Politicians know that and go with it, focusing on (non)issues like gay marriage.

My personal suggestion for a ballot would be one that focuses on issue stances. Perhaps a Tufte-designed matrix of issues. Based on the issues, a person could easily find the candidate that best matches their wants/needs. In otherwords, the ballot would be voting for issues, with the names and parties being the minor details.

Granted with 150 or so candidates this may be difficult. And, to be fair, the issue 'distillation' is something that the voter shouold be doing prior to entering the booth, but the reality is that few do.

As for IRV, it's not perfect, but it does allow a person to vote based on the issues more so than a specific person. In MN, for instance, we now have a Republican Governor that, IIRC won with only 30% or so of the votes. The majority of the people were aligned more with the center/democrats, but the right snuck in due to the current problems with our voting system.

Damn it. Now I'm talking politics. ;o)

On Aug.14.2003 at 09:14 AM
Dan’s comment is:

Sometimes you'll hear designers say that the best way to make something effective or memorable is to get someone to play with it. It will almost be a game when I go out to vote in November and flip through pages of canditates, looking for a familiar name. When I find Arnold or Gary Coleman afloat in that sea of names, it will be like rescuing the princess in Super Mario. It will take everything I've got not to save them, to beat the game, to vote for them.

On Aug.14.2003 at 11:24 AM
brook’s comment is:


the organization that is pushing the hardest in minnesota is Fair Vote Minnesota. they are about more than IRV, but that is a big part of their agenda. they also address public financing of elections, voting fraud, security, etc. the board has democrats, republicans, greens and independants. they introduced a bill last year, and it flew through committee (i think in the senate) but there were obviously some more pressing matters towards the end of the session. at camp wellstone jeff blodgett (paul's campaign manager) told me that there is pretty wide bipartisan support for a clean elections law, mostly centered on public financing, but also of including a testing phase of IRV for some smaller elections.

On Aug.14.2003 at 08:29 PM