Ballot Initiative

The AIGA’s efforts to improve the way we vote are finally gaining some political traction.

In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, the mech­anics of voting underwent prolonged and intense national scrutiny. Yet subsequent reform efforts tended to focus on voting machines, software developments, and the processing and counting of votes—not on the design of the ballots themselves. Fortunately, an initiative of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) called Design for Democracy stepped into the void, working to apply basic principles of legibility and clarity to the nation’s ballots.

But improving ballots is easy compared to the task of convincing elections officials to adopt graphic designers’ pro­posals. Richard Grefé, executive director of the AIGA and president of Design for Democracy, says it’s a matter of overcoming the status quo. “There’s no conspiracy, there’s no malice, there’s no neglect,” he says. “There’s just stasis.” Now after seven years, Design for Democracy is making real progress. Last June its best-practices recommendations were accepted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent agency established in 2002. And last November the University of Chicago Press published Design for Democracy: Ballot + Election Design, by Marcia Lausen, which uses successful redesign efforts in Illinois and Oregon as case studies. (An example from Chicago/Cook County is at right.)

Whether any of the AIGA’s suggestions will be implemented in time for the first wave of presidential primaries this month, or the national elections in November, is uncertain. Grefé is hopeful that recent talks with Florida will eventually translate into statewide regulations there, and that other states will follow suit. Ultimately, he says, what’s needed is for local and state officials to understand and embrace the value of good design. “It’s not cosmetic,” Grefé says. “It’s actually assuring a more accurate and verifiable vote.”

Find out more facts about this story on the Reference Page: January 2008

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