Friday, September 7, 2012

Intelligent Design

60 Days From Election Day

A hot topic, and an overall good idea I'd add, is ballot design.

Make the ballot easier to read, more appealing to the eye, maybe have a scratch n' sniff peppermint area, and voters will enjoy voting so much that they cross off the days on their calendars until the next election.

Voter participation will improve and more races will be fully voted with better ballot design.

In our county, we have plenty of under-voted races, especially as you go down the ballot.  Occasionally, we'll get asked about that and we have to deliver the news to candidates that they apparently have never heard--"People just didn't care about your race."

Now, poor ballot design is an issue, and keep in mind that ballots are prepared in three formats:  paper, voting machine, and paper for military/overseas voters. 

The most famous paper ballot design controversy came from Florida during the 2000 presidential election but there was also a Florida congressional race in 2006 that literally hid from voters on the voting machines--eyes were drawn to the center of the screen, missing the race at the top of the screen.

Arguing the benefits of good ballot design is a little like arguing that gravity exists.  It's hard to make a credible argument against it.

But a dose of reality hit us as we began preparing the ballot for November.  Our ballot order was due to the printer yesterday and we began the week chasing down the final candidate list, certified by the state election board Friday, and the constitutional amendment on watercraft taxation that we'd heard about.

The amendment changes one date and adds one word to the statute, but we have to publish the entire notice that first took a full page of an 8 1/2 by 18-inch ballot.  That resulted in a three-page ballot and four for two cities with a second question.  Either way, it moved us to two sheets of paper.

We're ordering about 200,000 paper ballots, so doubling that at roughly 50 cents a page makes the impact $100,000.  Then add in extra postage to mail ballots, questions voters would have about the postage to return the ballot, and the cost we incur when ballots come back with insufficient postage.

It adds up to about a $150,000 impact.  Then, of course, there's the double scanning time, issues that arise when voters only return one page or when husband sends one page and wife sends three pages, or a myriad of other one-offs we began coming up with.

I'm reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is confronted with a high price and a salesman says, "Surely you can't put a price on your family's lives?"

"I wouldn't have thought so, either," Homer said.  "But, here we are."

And so, we are left to contemplate a cost for ballot design.  It would have helped if we only had to print the items that changed.  But, here we are.

With much tinkering, font-size changing, and column spacing adjustments, we got the ballot down to one page, front and back.

We won't need to issue a magnifying glass with each ballot, either.  It looks fine, actually, but, regrettably, no peppermint scratch and sniff.

But tears of joy are in order for taxpayers, in my opinion.  That's $150,000 saved!

Those are real dollars, saved by the ingenuity and persistence of some members of our staff. 

Oh, and our relief of not having to deal with the operational issues, that's priceless.

The back side of the ballot, with room still
for a city question in Mission and Roeland Park.
The ballot is 8 1/2 by 18 inches, which is
a special size requiring a unique paper tray in
a printer that prints edge-to-edge.  We can print ballots
at our office if we run out of a style, but most
of our ballots are printed in Washington (state).


Joe said...

Anyone know what this "Load Legal Letter" error on the printer means?

Election Diary said...

Joe, the ballot is 8 1/2 by 18, which is an unusual size. Maybe that's called "legal letter."