Claire Dause: Complex Ballot Language


One of the EAC’s election design guides

Over the past few weeks, I hit a sort of roadblock with my research. I intended to conduct many small studies throughout the state of Illinois to get citizens’ input on the current state of Illinois ballots. I have since found that it is actually rather difficult to schedule these studies and as such have extremely limited data. Instead of waiting for all of that to fall into place I’ve decided to begin my analysis of ballots with respect to best practices set forth by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a federal agency meant to help streamline elections. 

In this analysis, I have found that many Illinois ballots fail to meet the standards of even just the top 10 guidelines for election design. The top 10 reads as follows:

  1. Use lowercase letters
  2. Avoid centered type
  3. Use big enough type
  4. Pick one sans-serif font
  5. Support process and navigation 
  6. Use clear, simple language
  7. Use accurate instructional illustrations
  8. Use informational icons (only)
  9. Use contrast and color functionally
  10. Decide what is most important

Number 6 of this list is of particular interest for Illinois’s 2020 general election ballots because there was a constitutional amendment referendum that necessitated additional instructions to voters. The state intended to advise voters that they were a) not required to vote for or against the amendment for their ballot to count but b) encouraged to vote for or against the amendment especially if they had a preference against it because not voting at all is equivalent to a yes vote in regards to constitutional amendments. This however was worded in a very complex manner and was even difficult for me to reword just now (see the picture below for the full amendment instruction text).

Amendment text from the Jo Daviess county ballot