Poor user interface elects George W.
November 9, 2000 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Poor user interface elects George W. The second hole on the right does not correspond to the second candidate on the left (Gore), but rather to the first candidate on the right (Buchanan). While many people will notice this, many others, especially those with poor vision, will not. About 20% of Buchanan's votes in FL came from the county that used this ballot.
posted by tranquileye (32 comments total)
Good Lord. Look at that ballot. Can you really, truly say that you can't figure it out? If you're too incompetent to follow the arrows, you really don't need to be voting in the first place. If you can't see it clearly, you should ask for clarification or assistance.

No matter what you feel about the clarity of this ballot, there is no reason for the election to be affected by it. People make mistakes all the time. These people did not properly cast their vote. Their loss. The onus of the mistake sits squarely on their sholders.
posted by CRS at 7:11 AM on November 9, 2000

My problem with this is that the law specifies that it cannot be set up this way. Florida law specifies that voters mark an X in the blank space to the right of the name of the candidate they want to vote for. Half of the holes were on the right and half were on the left. If we are going to talk about following the electoral college law no matter how onerous, shouldn't the same hold true for all election laws?
posted by donkeymon at 7:13 AM on November 9, 2000

There should be a new election in that county.

Do we really want to have a president who 1) didn't get the majority of the vote, and 2) only got the electoral college win through voter error?
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:20 AM on November 9, 2000

CRS, I can figure it out, but I can also see why people with poor vision would have a problem with it. This isn't a foot race, this is an election: even the weak and old get to vote, and they should have a ballot that allows them to do so as they wish.
posted by tranquileye at 7:53 AM on November 9, 2000

Buchanan Says Disputed Florida Votes Are Gore's

Can a candidate give his votes to another candidate?
posted by capt.crackpipe at 7:59 AM on November 9, 2000

I'd have to check Florida law, but not generally. It's incredible, though, that he said that.
posted by dhartung at 8:10 AM on November 9, 2000

shameless self-promotion, but this whole situation is nuts and I couldn't resist making...
Dynagirl's Design-a-Ballot National Competition!
Electronic? Print? Send me one of each.
Check my blog for more information, there will be full details tonight.

posted by mimi at 8:11 AM on November 9, 2000

I suggest we design a new ballot for Florida, based on a the design of a BINGO card. This would give voters a ballot that they are familiar with and is easy to read. Each voter would vote (via red or blue marker bottle) on the card.

**The only stipulation would be, that our vote only counts if you get a "BINGO" with your candidates name.
posted by 120degrees at 8:19 AM on November 9, 2000

tranquileye: As I understand it, the ballot was published in newspapers and in public places long before the election. If someone was worried about the ballot being unclear, why didn't they protest it then?

At any rate, they did have a ballot that allowed them to vote as they wished. It's not anyone's fault but their own that they couldn't fill it out correctly. Assistance was easily available from the poll workers. They should have asked for help if they were confused.
posted by CRS at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2000

Not surprised that Buchanan notes those votes aren't his. If there was a county that he should have done poorly in, it would be Palm Beach. It's a predominantly Jewish county. I highly doubt that a man who has been quoted saying "Hitler was a good soldier" would do well there.

Also interesting that 19K ballots are tossed because they have two presidential candidates marked (assuming those are Gore Buchanan).

Should there be voter training? Should poll workers explain the ballot to people, tell them that if they make a mistake they can get a new ballot? You know, that would be nice. UI is one thing, customer support is yet another. Oh wait, this is the government.
posted by kat at 8:29 AM on November 9, 2000

I live in Boca (Palm Beach County) the ballot was MUCH easier to read than the representation at the Sun Sentinel--I would NEVER have thought it was confusing to anyone.

This thing with the X in the blank space? They are 'punches' not X's and it's that way all throughout the tri-county area here. Also the Secretary of State did approve the ballot AND it was mailed out before the election so people could see what the changes would look like.(text was made BIGGER, thus easier to read)
posted by chiXy at 8:32 AM on November 9, 2000

Assistance was easily available from the poll workers.

What source do you have for this? Everything I've read (and the existence of 19,000 disqualified ballots) indicates that Palm Beach County voters did not have assistance in this situation. I voted in North Florida early in the day, and my precinct was wall-to-wall senior citizens. It would have been extremely difficult for the election volunteers in Palm Beach to help the number of people who were confused by the ballot.

As I understand it, the ballot was published in newspapers and in public places long before the election. If someone was worried about the ballot being unclear, why didn't they protest it then?

Seeing the ballot in a newspaper without the punch holes is a lot different than seeing it in the booth.
posted by rcade at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2000

I can read the thing. But I have to say that the Palm Beach ballot seems typical of a lot of American ballot design I have seen: The form is designed for the machine to read, not for people to use intuitively. Glancing at the ballot, one is not sure which circle corresponds to which candidate; do you follow the line, the arrow, or do we choose the circle closest to the name? As well, the numbers next to the arrows are confusing; I assume they mean the number of the circle.

My partner is a US citizen who voted by absentee ballot in Oklahoma. Different ballot, similar problems, including a layout that placed the marking circles in different places depending on the page, switching from columns to rows. It didn't take us long at all to figure it out, but the same might not be the case for a senior with poor vision.

I would argue that when there is that confusion on an intuitive level, you are going to get some people voting the wrong way.

posted by tranquileye at 9:05 AM on November 9, 2000

It seems like a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. If the ballots were designed w/ smaller type, people would probably complain that they couldn't make out the candidates' names.
posted by gyc at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2000

Assistance was easily available from the poll workers.

Well, I know that here in California, the volunteers were most unhelpful. They seemed overwhelmed by both the number of people voting and the complexity of the situation: laypeople helping laypeople conduct government business, trying to keep things moving and really not knowing much else. The facilities themselves (schoolroom, or church basement, or garage) reflect the fact that, despite all the bureacracy, voting is hosted by volunteers who may not be well-trained.

I heard a young woman on NPR last night say that when she realized had punched the Buchanan Hole (I love that phrase), she took her ballot to a poll worker, explained the situation, and asked to re-cast her ballot. The volunteer said, "nope, you get one vote," snatched her ballot and tossed it into the locked ballot box.
posted by Bootcut at 9:55 AM on November 9, 2000

Am I the only one who didn't even realize that there were these wacky pin ballot things out there? In the several states I've voted in in the Northeast, there's always been the standard big metal booth with the curtain and the levers. And I've never been confused there, and it's been that way for many years. Seems like they use the exact same vote template every year, for good reason.
posted by smackfu at 10:03 AM on November 9, 2000

There's been a lot of speculation about whether the ballots caused mis-voting or not, but I hadn't found anything approaching proof until I ran across (on /.) this explanation from Till Rosenband at MIT involving actual mathematics rather than just bars on a graph (which can be misleading because the data hasn't been normailized).

Rosenband ran a proper statistical analysis (with standard deviation and such) and determined that the "probability that Buchanan would get so many votes in Palm Beach by pure chance is less than 1 in 3,000,000,000,000,000."

And if you look at the graph, you can see that Palm Beach is way off the bell curve in no-man's land, where it clearly shouldn't be.
posted by jkottke at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2000

Graphing raw votes vs. counties? That is so wrong! You at least have to normalize the votes to the county population or the graph is meaningless. And that'll only give a useful view if every county has identical demographics, which is highly unlikely.
posted by smackfu at 10:31 AM on November 9, 2000

I find it humorous and ironic that the ballot was designed by a DEMOCRAT. "...the ballot in dispute was approved by Democrat Theresa LePore, the county supervisor of elections."

I am still laughing. Too Funny.
posted by da5id at 10:36 AM on November 9, 2000

You know what this means: Edward Tufte for President.
posted by holgate at 10:38 AM on November 9, 2000

For me, the "standard" big metal booth is the wacky variant; I've never seen one in the flesh. In '96, I got to use one of those funky pin ballots, and this year it was something that looked all the world like a high school multiple choice test, complete with #2 pencil.

[shrug] Different strokes for geographically-diverse folks, I suppose.
posted by youhas at 10:50 AM on November 9, 2000

smackfu -

The graph shows the RATIO of Bush to Buchanan votes by county, and the population and demographics make little difference. Here's another view.

Get it? Something weird happened in Palm Beach.
posted by nicwolff at 10:53 AM on November 9, 2000

I read an interview with an election worker in palm Beach and they said:

Since balloted is a sacred process, the observers are not allowed to talk to the voters to prevent biasing their votes. So even after the problem was identified, no one was allowed to tell the voters.

Sucks don't it?
posted by DragonBoy at 11:21 AM on November 9, 2000

I don't think that anyone is suggesting that the ballot was intentionally misleading or that the design of it shoud be subject to partisan scrutiny. I am sure that the ballot was as easy to read for Democrat Theresa LePore, the county supervisor of elections, as it was for whatever people designed it and all of the other people who saw it beforehand. Just because no one realised beforehand that it was confusing doesn't change the fact that it was confusing. Whether it was their duty or not to understand the ballot also does not change the fact that it was confusing.

It was confusing, because people were confused by it.

What should be done about it if anything is a completely different question.
posted by donkeymon at 11:26 AM on November 9, 2000

nicwolff - take a look at the graph that kottke explicitly linked to, not the one in the PDF.
posted by smackfu at 11:56 AM on November 9, 2000

"If you're too incompetent to follow the arrows, you really don't need to be voting in the first place."

I agree that the mental capacity of the average american is not exactly rising, but last I checked, stupid people have rights too.

Maybe we should have testing to determine who can vote or not... that's right, people deemed "stupid" by this test should have no to vote. Oh wait, that's been tried hasn't it?

posted by tj at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2000

Something else was wrong with that ballot.
Florida Code S103.

... the names of the actual candidates for President and Vice President for whom the presidential electors will vote if elected shall be printed on the ballot in the order in which the party of which the candidate is a nominee polled the highest number of votes for Governor in the last general election.

Just taking a guess here, but I don't believe there even was a Reform candidate for governor there, let alone one in 2nd place. Yet the 2nd punch-hole was for Buchanan.

I still think that my Cook County ballot, with a clear space between the punch-holes for each party (i.e. a covered-over punch-hole), is eminently more accessible to the average voter.
posted by dhartung at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2000

TJ: no; that *hasn't* been tried, and suggesting that it has is a tacky shot.
posted by baylink at 5:25 PM on November 9, 2000

What's been tried is "literacy tests" meant to keep out those who hadn't been allowed to learn how to read (i.e. newly freed slaves). Of course, ignorant rednecks were protected by a "grandfather clause" that allowed you to vote anyway if your grandfather had voted. As much as I'd like some kind of way to limit the vote to people who can actually be bothered to learn how the government works, I'm afraid that such testing could be skewed to lock out people with unpopular beliefs.
posted by harmful at 6:01 PM on November 9, 2000

By the way, I was just IM'ing with my mom, who said that her ballot in Mississippi was laid out just as badly as Palm Beach's. However, the volunteer election officials there were very careful to explain the layout to her (and my dad, and hopefully everyone else). Even once she told them that she had checked out the ballot layout in advance (she always marks up a newspaper sample beforehand), they were careful to explain it individually.
posted by harmful at 6:20 PM on November 9, 2000

I think it's important to remember two things:

1. In 1996, Palm Beach County had something on the order of 15,000 double-punched ballots disqualified, as required by state law. So it's not this year's ballot that's the problem; it's Palm Beach voters. The error margin, incidentally, is less than one-half of one percent for Palm Beach voters last Tuesday. That's pretty good considering the circumstances.

2. In 1996, Buchanan got over 8,000 votes in the Republican primary, without even campaigning. So is it really that odd to think that he got 3,000 votes this time? Those bar graphs you've seen don't take into account things like that fact that Buchanan has relatives living in PB County.

As lawyers say, this is NOT reversible error.
posted by mikewas at 8:37 PM on November 9, 2000

The statistical analysis of the election, combined with a companion statistical analysis of the 1996 election, suggests otherwise, Mike.

Apparently, Buchanan was *not* an outlier in 96.

"The stars might lie, but the numbers never do."
--Mary Chapin-Carpenter
posted by baylink at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2000

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