Best practices for designing ballots, voter education, and election results.
The Center for Civic Design partnered with the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center and FairVote to research best practices for ranked choice ballot design, voter education, and results presentation.
The first phase of that research wrapped up in December 2016, with a report that provides principles and guidelines for designing ranked choice voting ballots, voter education, and results presentation.
Read the report: Best practices for ranked choice voting ballots and other materials
Ranked choice voting elicits strong opinions, but when it is used, we think voters deserve information and ballot design that helps ensure they can vote as intended and understand how their vote will be counted.
Our goal in this project is to present best practice designs that can be used anywhere there is a ranked choice voting election to support the goal of making every vote count.
The work on this project started with a review of the wide variety of materials already in use around the country from Portland, Maine to San Francisco, California.
We then created prototype materials—ballots, voter education, and results details—using the guidelines for ballot design from the Election Assistance Commission and the Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent. This meant that the differences between different ballots focused on the layout and interaction with ranking rather than the quality of the design.
Testing with voters in California, New Jersey, and Minneapolis helped us refine the prototypes to identify broad design principles that can apply to a wide range of ballot styles and other materials.
We are continuing to refine the best practices, adding:
The best practices are guidance, not a rigid standard. The examples are a toolkit of designs that worked well in our testing, which election officials can put to work in creating their own materials.
Each of the best practice guidelines looks at one element of voter materials to show how it contributes to helping people participate in ranked choice voting as informed voters. There are also some examples that did not work well, and which we recommend avoiding.
We hope that this provides a balance between wanting to know the “best” design and the need to create election materials that must adapt to the specifics of local election law, current procedures, and voting systems.
The report, Best practices for ranked choice voting ballots and other materials, includes examples and illustrations for each of the guidelines.
Give voters the information they need to prepare to vote. Before the actual voting day, voters should have access to voter education materials that clearly explain the concept of ranked choice voting. This will prepare voters to make confident choices on the day of voting.
Present all information in clear, simple language. Explain ranked choice voting in plain language across all materials, avoiding jargon as much as possible. Voters of different literacy levels must all understand the information you provide.
Repeat important messages across different voting materials. Voter education and ballot instructions support each other. Voters should be able to easily access relevant information as they need it.
Make election results transparent. Show the process of counting a ranked choice voting election when reporting election results. This will help voters understand how the winner is determined and build confidence in the voting system.
Use best practices for ballot design. Use best practices for ballot design from the Election Assistance Commission and Voluntary Voting System Guidelines requirements for accessibility as a starting point for ballot layouts for any ranked choice voting contest.
On a digital ballot, give the voter control of all interactions. Using a digital ballot should be simple and straightforward. This is especially helpful for people not familiar with computers and people with disabilities.
Include clear, concise instructions that will help voters avoid errors and rank candidates as they intend. Instructions on paper and digital ballots should be easy to find and easy to follow.