A Voter Bill of Rights in plain language for California

When we started to work on a project to improve voter guides in California, we did not expect the Voter Bill of Rights to play such a large role in what we learned. We knew it was a good document, but we didn’t think it was an important element in a voter guide. In our first round of research we included the it just to get reactions—as an example of “official information.” We were incredibly surprised when person after person told us they liked it. Not only that, they said:

“A lot of people could use information like this.”

“Move this to the front—really. It’s lost [at the back]. These are things you need to know early on.”

What we learned from voters in those early usability tests led to a hearing in the California legislature, and a bill introduced by Senator Tony Mendoza to ensure that election information is written in plain, accessible, and easily understandable language. State Bill 505 was signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on September 1, 2015.

 

Image new version. The numbers of the rights are in decorative stars
Plain language version from the 2016 California Voter Information Guide
This version was created through extensive usability testing and community review
Read the text in this image
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image of the poster. The voter bill or rights is large, with smaller text on the side
2016 Polling Place Poster Version
The version to post in polling places also includes mandatory language about hours and other instructions.
1 of
Image of original version. See full text below
Original text from the 2014 California Voter Information Guide
The original text was not long, but in usability testing, voters had trouble understanding some of their rights.
Read the text in this image
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Transformations in the text

To create the final version of the revised Voter Bill of Rights, we worked with staff from the Secretary of State’s office and the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund to do a community review, testing our recommended language.

During this process, we learned that some voters did not know about all of their rights. Some of the rights mentioned as new information include:

  • The right to a secret ballot
  • That you can get a new ballot if you make a mistake
  • That you can vote if you are in line when the polls close
  • That people with a felony can vote after they finish their prison term
  • That election materials are available in languages other than English

Although much of the new text worked well, a few of the rights were still confusing, so we continued to make changes, tweaking the language until voters understood it. Here’s one example, from the right to a provisional ballot, showing some of the versions we tested.

Original Text
You have the right to cast a provisional ballot if your name is not listed on the voting rolls.
Reaction: Voters did not understand the words provisional  or rolls

First revision
The right to vote a provisional ballot if your name is not on the list of registered voters. Your ballot will be counted if election officials determine that you are eligible to vote.
Reaction: Starting with “provisional ballot” confused people.

Revision 2
The right to vote even if your name is not on the list of registered voters, on a provisional ballot. Your ballot will be counted if election officials determine that you are eligible to vote.
Reaction: Oops! People thought they no longer had to register to be able to vote.

Revision 3
The right to vote if you are a registered voter but your name is not on the list. You will vote using a provisional ballot. It will be counted if election officials determine that you are eligible to vote.
Reaction: This started to work. It described the problem first, then explained the solution.

Final text
The right to vote if you are a registered voter even if your name is not on the list. You will vote using a provisional ballot. Your vote will be counted if elections officials determine that you are eligible to vote.
Reaction: The final version changed “but” to “even if” and clarified that “your vote” will be counted

 

For more information

 


California Voter Bill of Rights
New language (adopted in 2016)

  1. The right to vote if you are a registered voter. You are eligible to vote if you are:
    a U.S. citizen living in California
    at least 18 years old
    registered where you currently live
    not in prison or on parole for a felony
  2. The right to vote if you are a registered voter even if your name is not on the list. You will vote using a provisional ballot. Your vote will be counted if elections officials determine that you are eligible to vote.
  3. The right to vote if you are still in line when the polls close.
  4. The right to cast a secret ballot without anyone bothering you or telling you how to vote.
  5. The right to get a new ballot if you have made a mistake, if you have not already cast your ballot. You can:
    Ask an elections official at a polling place
    for a new ballot; or
    Exchange your vote-by-mail ballot
    for a new one at an elections office, or at your polling place; or
    Vote using a provisional ballot
    , if you do not have your original vote-by-mail ballot.
  6. The right to get help casting your ballot from anyone you choose, except from your employer or union representative.
  7. The right to drop off your completed vote‑by‑mail ballot at any polling place in the county where you are registered to vote.
  8. The right to get election materials in a language other than English if enough people in your voting precinct speak that language.
  9. The right to ask questions to elections officials about election procedures and watch the election process. If the person you ask cannot answer your questions, they must send you to the right person for an answer. If you are disruptive, they can stop answering you.
  10. The right to report any illegal or fraudulent election activity to an elections official or the Secretary of State’s office.
    On the web at www.sos.ca.gov
    By phone at (800) 345-VOTE (8683)
    By email at elections@sos.ca.gov

 


California Voter Bill of Rights
Original language

  1. You have the right to cast a ballot if you are a valid registered voter. A valid registered voter means a United States citizen who is a resident in this state, who is at least 18 years of age and not in prison or on parole for conviction of a felony, and who is registered to vote at his or her current residence address.
  2. You have the right to cast a provisional ballot if your name is not listed on the voting rolls.
  3. You have the right to cast a ballot if you are present and in line at the polling place prior to the close of the polls.
  4. You have the right to cast a secret ballot free from intimidation.
  5. You have the right to receive a new ballot if, prior to casting your ballot, you believe you made a mistake. If at any time before you finally cast your ballot, you feel you have made a mistake, you have the right to exchange the spoiled ballot for a new ballot. Vote-by-mail voters may also request and receive a new ballot if they return their spoiled ballot to an elections official prior to the closing of the polls on Election Day.
  6. You have the right to receive assistance in casting your ballot, if you are unable to vote without assistance.
  7. You have the right to return a completed vote-by-mail ballot to any precinct in the county.
  8. You have the right to election materials in another language, if there are sufficient residents in your precinct to warrant production.
  9. You have the right to ask questions about election procedures and observe the election process. You have the right to ask questions of the precinct board and elections officials regarding election procedures and to receive an answer or be directed to the appropriate official for an answer. However, if persistent questioning disrupts the execution of their duties, the board or election officials may discontinue responding to questions.
  10. You have the right to report any illegal or fraudulent activity to a local elections official or to the Secretary of State’s office.