Vol. 100 Designing a voter guide to an election

In many jurisdictions, election officials send a booklet to registered voters with information about what’s on their ballot and how to participate in the election.

When we started working on how to design a better voter guide, we didn’t realize that we were just touching the tip of an iceberg.  Too often, voters don’t understand the basics of participating in an election, even if they understand the importance of making their voice heard. They don’t know their options for voting, or the simple mechanics of when, where, and how to take each step in an election. As one young newly registered voter said, “What, exactly, do you do when you go to the place where you vote?”

Official guides provide accurate information that voters need and can make a difference in how confidently they participate in an election.

This workbook contains information and resources that will help you create a voter guide in a format that makes it inviting, useful, and effective.

Although much of the research was done in California, the lessons are applicable everywhere.

Section 1. Basic design resources
Section 2. Planning the voter guide
Section 3. Creating the voter guide pages
Section 4. Putting the voter guides together

Section 01

Basic design resources

Illustrations and icons for election activities
Images for voter guides, including a variety of icons, instructional illustrations and other useful images. They are sized for web, print, posters, plus the Adobe Illustrator source file.

→ Go to the civic icons and images library on ElectionTools.org


Fonts for easy to read text
You can use any simple sans-serif font, such as Arial, Helvetica, Univers, Verdana, or Calibri. We like ClearviewADA, from Terminal Design. Election offices can use code clvadaelec for a 20% discount.  Under the license, you may provide your printer with a copy of the font so they can print anything created with ClearviewADA.

Go to Terminal Design to purchase a license for ClearviewADA


Colors for election materials
We have created a palette of colors with good contrast to meet accessibility requirements for both headlines and body text.  The colors include:

  • 7:1 contrast to use for any size text on white, or as a background for white letters
  • 3:1 contrast to use for large text (at least 16 points or equivalent)
  • 15:1 contrast for shaded boxes, suitable for use with black text for good legibility

→ Download the election design color palette
Learn about using colors effectively


Working with the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, we developed recommendations and a checklist for voter guides. Four short webinars introduce the best practices, layout and visual presentation, closing the civic literacy gap, and plain language.

Get the Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides
Watch the Best Practices webinars
See a presentation: making information easy for voters to understand
→ Download the California training slides
See the showcase of examples from the California 2016 Primary



Section 02

Planning the voter guide

To plan the basics of the guide, start by deciding on your goals and making the first decisions.

What will be included in the guide?
Some of the top questions voters ask in our research are:

  • What’s on the ballot?
  • What is the date of the next election and any voter deadlines?
  • What are the options for ways to vote?
  • Where do I vote (and what are the hours on Election Day)?
  • How do I mark my ballot?
  • What are the options for accessible voting?

What other required information must be included?

What languages is the guide published in?
If you publish elections information in more than one language, decide how the pages will be organized – in sections, alternate pages or bilingual pages.

Is the guide customized by ballot type?
Will it be customized by ballot type, or include personalized information such as a voter’s polling place, or will it be the same for all voters. Managing ballot types and filler pages is hard. You need a tool to help you figure out.

→ Download the ballot type layout calculator tool (Excel)
Learn about planning for multiple languages

Section 03

Creating the voter guide pages

Page templates
To help you build the pages, we have a set of templates, with some sample content. Of course, you’ll have to edit it for your own jurisdiction, but this will give you a start.

The templates are in ZIP files with 7 different page types (covers, Ways to Vote pages, ballot introduction, candidate statements, measures, practice ballot, and a blank filler page).

Download the templates for a letter-size page using ClearViewADA
Download the templates for a letter-size page using Arial
Download the templates for some printers at 8.325 x 10.5 inches
Download an InDesign template

(Updated August 18 to make the Page Title and Chapter title styles into a level 1 header. If you have already started your pages, you can make this change by modifying the style and in the paragraph settings, choose level 1.)

Sample content pages
Sample pages added for the California General Election

  • Top Two Primary explanation – how the California Top Two primary affects the general election ballot. Versions in both table and text form.


Design guidelines
Follow the links to design notes and tips on working on some of the page types in each template.


We recommend that you arrange the content of your guide in this order. We found that keeping the civics information together toward the front and the ballot-related information all together in the second half worked well for people in our studies.

As you decide on the pages and how they are laid out, think about how to use design to signal the start of a new section. Two pages in the template—Ways to vote and What’s on the ballot? are designed to start a section.

Tips for writing in plain language
Tips for working in Word
Tips for working in Acrobat
Tips for accessibility


Section 04

Putting the voter guides together

There are many ways to assemble your voter guide. This describes the process used by several elections offices we worked with.

First, create all of the pieces you need to assemble all of the guides. For example, the Ways to Vote section may be the same for all voters, but candidate and ballot questions may vary by ballot type.

  • Create the individual pages or sections in their own files.
  • Save each file as a separate Acrobat PDF file.
  • Check the accessibility of each PDF file, correcting any problems in Word so the source file is accurate, and create the PDF again.

Next, assemble the guide for the first ballot type.

  • In Adobe Acrobat (not the Acrobat Reader), you can use the Tools > Pages to Insert from File. Just insert all of the sections, adding each one to the end, in the order you want them to appear in the finished guide.

Finally, there are a few things you need to do in Acrobat to finish the file.

  • Edit any text that varies by ballot type
  • Add footers to the pages
  • Check that the primary language is set (for a single-language guide)
  • Do an accessibility check on the whole file to make sure everything has worked correctly

Once you have assembled, saved, and edited all of your files, they are ready to go to your printer.

Tips for working in Word
→ Tips for working in Acrobat
Tips for accessibility