MacArthur Foundation to Team with Election Academy, Dana Chisnell to Promote Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent


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I am delighted to announce that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has notified us of their intention to make a grant to be used by the Election Academy and usability expert Dana Chisnell to produce and promote a series of Field Guides for Ensuring Voter Intent.

Awareness of the importance of design is growing in the field. Earlier this week, NYU’s Brennan Center released Better Design, Better Elections, an updated version of its 2010 report that highlights how “[d]esign defects in ballots, voter instructions, and voting machines contributed to the loss of several hundred thousand votes in the most recent national elections.”

Dana Chisnell, whose work and ideas have been featured numerous times in this blog, has taken democracy’s design problem head on. Consistent with her commitment to usability research and hands-on design, she and several of her colleagues have created a series of research-based, gorgeously designed field guides with information about how to identify and overcome common election design problems. These guides aren’t tucked into massive reports; rather, they’re short and small – as notes, with “a form factor … designed for the busy county election official to pick up and within minutes learn useful, field-researched, critical ballot design techniques that help ensure that every vote is cast as voters intend.”

The first four Guides are already out, each focusing on a different aspect of elections:

You can download PDF versions of the Guides using the links above, or order printed copies directly using this link at

In addition, several more Guides are in the planning stages now, including editions focusing on improving election web sites, voter education materials and vote-by-mail ballots as well as designing better multi-lingual ballots.

Here at the Election Academy, we believe that a thorough understanding of design – which demands a focus on the voter at the point of voting – is a key skill for election administrators in the 21st century. That’s why we’re partnering with Dana and her colleagues – with support from MacArthur – to help disseminate the Guides and work with election officials nationwide to use the design expertise contained within to improve ballots both for the 2012 Presidential election and in the future.

We’re excited about this partnership – both because of the importance of the subject matter and because of the opportunity to work with Dana and her colleagues, whose commitment to good design (and the voters it serves) is completely consistent with the Election Academy’s mission as well.

We are grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for their support of the Field Guides project, and we look forward to using that support to improve the election process for administrators and voters alike in 2012 and beyond.

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