Kavanagh Announces Introduction of ‘Voter Friendly Ballot Act’

New law would make New York ballots less confusing, easier to read
June 9, 2011

New York – After frequent complaints from New York voters about confusing or hard-to-read ballots, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voting Rights, announces the Voter Friendly Ballot Act to simplify and streamline the design of New York’s paper ballots. The ballot design for the 2010 election was set by state laws some of which were originally written for the old, mechanical voting machines. The Voter-Friendly Ballot Act would make ballots easier for voters to read and easier for the new machines to accurately scan.

“New Yorkers deserve an accessible voting experience, which includes ballots that are easy to read and use,” said Kavanagh. “The Voter Friendly Ballot Act of 2011 will ensure that our ballots reflect all that we know about making ballots and other important documents more comprehensible, while giving election administrators flexibility to design ballots that work with different voting machines and various races.”

New Yorkers have long had issues with their ballots. In a survey conducted by the New York City Council following the 2010 general election, ballot design and font size were one of the most frequent subjects of complaints, and more than 30 percent of respondents said ‘yes’ when asked if the ballot was confusing or difficult to read. A statewide poll by the League of Women Voters found that up to 20 percent of voters had problems completing the paper ballot.

“New York State’s ballot design requirements and instructions were written for the State’s old lever machine voting system,” said Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Combining the expertise of design and usability experts with local election officials, we can create much more user-friendly ballots and eliminate confusion on Election Day.”

“New Yorkers deserve better designed ballots that don’t require a PhD or a magnifying glass to figure out," said Neal Rosenstein, Election Specialist for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This common sense bill makes important changes to reduce the chance that voters face the same type of confusing ballots that they did for last year's elections,” he added.

“Voters who participated in a League of Women Voters of NYS statewide voter survey at the November 2010 General Election said that designing the paper ballot for easier use should be a priority. The proposed changes in the Voter Friendly Ballot Act of 2011 will help voters to vote more easily and accurately,” said Aimee Allaud, Elections Specialist, League of Women Voters of NYS.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY said, “The Voter Friendly Ballot Act of 2011 provides a straightforward fix to a problem that is obvious to anyone that voted in the last election. We urge the legislature to pass it and the board of elections to immediately develop a simplified, easy to read ballot. We commend Assemblyman Kavanagh for responding to the concerns of New York’s voters.”

“Citizens Union supports Assemblymember Kavanagh’s efforts to create a simpler and easier to read ballot for future elections,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “The legislation is an important step toward improving the layout and design of the ballot, in particular addressing the font size on the ballot, which voters cited as their primary concern during the transition to the new voting machines last fall.”

“The Voter Friendly Ballot Act offers a chance for New York to demonstrate its commitment to clarifying the election process and giving citizens the confidence that they are stating their choice and it is being accurately recorded, the very essence of a democratic experience,” said Richard Grefé, the Executive Director of AIGA, the professional association for design.

Specifically, the legislation would allow for ballots that:

  • Contain significantly shorter instructions that are prominently displayed, easy to understand, and free of legal jargon
  • Display candidates’ names in clear, bold, readable text and reduce clutter near candidates’ names, increasing legibility for voters and decreasing the likelihood of scanner error
  • Position fill-in ovals directly next to candidates’ names on the left, dramatically reducing ambiguity and confusion
  • Increase text size to increase legibility

Samples of the changes to the ballot that the Voter-Friendly Ballot Act would institute are available at the Brennan Center Web site. More information and the full text of the bill are available at Brian Kavanagh’s Web site.