Voter guides show off best practices in California

California voters get a lot of love from their election officials.  Not just one, but two booklets arrive in their mailbox before an election: one for statewide offices like governor and senator, and one for local elections from Congress to Mayor and county councils. Oh yes.. and the state propositions and county ballot measures.

Creating voter guides is an amazing undertaking for the counties. Each is customized so that every voter gets information about the things they will see on their ballot, translated to meet California and Voting Rights Act requirements. Primary elections throw in another level of complexity, because you have to get the right party ballot in the right guide for the right voter. 

Two years ago, we began doing research to understand how to make a better voter guide — one that will really help voters learn about how, when, and where to vote.

After the California primary in June, we collected voter guides from all 58 counties.  We know that making a change to something as important as a voter guide is no small thing, so what we saw made us cheer.

The images below will give you a taste of the changes, but to really see what some of the new work looks like, we have an online collection where you can see them all: 2016 California Primary Voter Guides

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Voter Guide Covers 1
The cover of the guide has clearly zoned places for all the information about the election at a glance. The county and contacts are both easy to find.

Nevada, Santa Cruz, and Fresno Counties
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Voter Guide Covers 2
These guides have a consistent look with room for individual touches. Many of the counties used colors to indicate the party primary (or grey for “all of them”).

Yuba, Madera, and Tulare Counties
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Voter Guide Covers 3
Even with variations, the "shape" of the design is visible. These examples include languages and polling place location. (Putting it on the front meant solving a challenge for mailing processes).

Sacramento and Solano Counties
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Tables of Contents
A table of contents helps voters get oriented. Dividing the pages about ways to vote from what’s on the ballot also helps voters see the kind of information available.

Ventura, Nevada, and Yuba Counties
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Ways to Vote
Showing voters their options in one place helps them see that they have choices. The use of a simple icon with the key details proved itself as a design element in usability testing.

Madera, San Diego, and San Mateo, Counties
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Preparing to Vote
Pages with information for finding the location of the polling place, dates for voting, and planning their choices help voters with these details of participating in an election.

San Diego, and San Francisco Counties
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Instructions for Voting
There are a lot of procedures voters have to follow. Visual information accompanying simple text works best for “how to” pages like how to return a vote-by-mail ballot or mark the ballot.

Shasta, Nevada, and Los Angeles Counties
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Instructions for Voting
This election had a lot of complexities from the 34 candidates for Senate to the choice of presidential party ballot for voters with no party preference. Pages specifically for these issues were easily added.

Nevada, Santa Barbara, Madera Counties
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Instructions for Voting
Instructions include learning how a primary works with three columns to separate the three types of primaries. Another visual shows how to mark a ballot, including write-ins.

Shasta and Tuolumne Counties
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What’s on the Ballot
After all the instructions about ways to vote, this introductory page helps voters get ready to mark their ballot. Showing two covers and lists of offices explains the relationship between the two booklets.

Nevada, Madera, and Tuolumne Counties
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Measures
It turned out that one of the easiest ways to help voters make sense of measures is a quick overview, with the actual question, what yes and no means, and who is for and against it.

Santa Cruz, Orange, and Yuba Counties
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Resources

2016 California Primary Voter Guides Collection

Project: How voters get information

Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides

Field Guide 6: Designing voter education booklets and flyers

Showcase: A Voter Bill of Rights in plain language