Thursday, October 28, 2010

New York City’s Ballot: Worse than the infamous Butterfly Ballot

image The Butterfly Ballot was used in Palm Beach County, Florida in the 2000.  It was so confusing that some media outlets blame it for costing Al Gore Florida’s electoral votes and thus, the White House.

But there’s a new challenger for the crown of the country’s Worst Ballot in the History of the Republic™ and it hails from New York City.

The ballot’s even been nominated by the Center for Plain Language WonderMark Award, given as a booby prize for ambiguous or confusing language on government documents:

New York City's election ballot is so confusing it's starting to get national recognition.

The city's paper ballot has drawn jeers in recent weeks over a series of potential flaws, leading to the firing of the election board's director on Tuesday. Most prominently, the instructions tell voters to fill out the oval "above or next to" a candidate's name, though the corresponding ovals on the ballot are actually below each candidate's name.

The nation got a taste of the problems poorly designed ballots can cause during the 2000 presidential election fiasco, when Florida's confusing butterfly ballots wreaked havoc at the polls. Lawrence Norden, with the Brennan Center for Justice, drew attention to the New York ballot instructions in a letter to state officials last week.

"A voter who follows the directions and chooses the oval above the candidate's name will actually be voting for a different candidate than she intends," he wrote.

The New York Post first reported that the Queens election ballot was set up so that the name of one of the other Democratic candidates, Ruben Wills, would appear in the same column as the Republican candidates. The Board of Elections fired its executive director George Gonzalez shortly afterward.

I use the Florida 2000 election fiasco often when lecturing on project planning and project management.  My shtick goes something like this:

“I was in a conference in South Florida a year or so back.  After a rather long morning roundtable session, the nine people in my group decided to vote on where we’d all go to lunch.  The conference organizers were paying for lunch, so we had to pick one place so there’d only be one tab.  The choices were a famous chain restaurant where attractive young ladies serve beer and pretty good chicken wings or a trendy bistro with low fat wraps, salads and other healthy fare.

“We discussed it among ourselves and everyone had their say.  Then, we took the vote.

“Four voted for Hooters, three voted for Bistro Lite and two voted for Pat Buchanan.”

“Those were the best damned wings I’ve ever tasted.”