How Bad Design Changed History!

Voting is a straight-forward activity. You go to your voting location, sign in, enter a booth and use a stylus to mark your candidates.

Sounds simple and uncomplicated. Unless the ballot design is such that you can’t tell who you’re actually voting for.

This was the case in Palm Beach County, Florida, during the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

You might remember this election because the results weren’t known for an unprecedented 36 days after the election.

Confusion Because of Bad Design

Democrats were upset that the U.S. Supreme Court halted the recount because of a Federal law limiting the time for recounting ballots.

Republicans felt the democrats were being unfair because they wanted chads counted. (Chads are ballots that weren’t fully punched out.)

But what really happened was voters were confused. Many punched holes for two candidates and those ballots were disqualified. 

As USA Today notes, “Voters’ confusion with ballot instruction and design and voting machines appears to have changed the course of U.S. history.”

Revisiting the Final Vote, USA Today

Wow. Maybe they should have used a designer instead of an administrator to actually design the ballot.

Designers See the Big Picture

The election officials were trying to solve a problem. Most voters in Palm Beach County, Florida are elderly. Officials were trying to create something that elderly voters could see. In so doing, however, the design caused these voters to be confused. The ballot they created is the infamous “butterfly ballot” shown below:

You can argue that the result of this specific election was good – or bad – but what you can’t argue is the importance of good design.

The moral of the story: If it’s important, consult a professional designer.