Wow, HOW LONG? electionlineWeekly on Lengthy 2018 Ballots

[Image via freakingnews]

The latest electionlineWeekly finds Mindy Moretti talking to election officials across America where ballots are going to be extremely long on Election Day:

The ballot in Seminole County, Florida is 56 inches long. If it were a human it would be tall enough to ride all the rides at Disney World, even Space Mountain!

In Pasco County, Florida, the double-sided 17-inch ballot could only ride a handful of amusement park rides, but at 34-inches long, it’s still a long one.

Seminole County

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel and Assistant Supervisor of Elections Rebecca Quinn with the county’s 56-inch ballot.

Longer ballots may lead to Election Day lines and in some jurisdictions could lead to a slower process on election night. Especially long ballots in the 2018 election cycle are forcing elections officials and voters alike to rethink how they cast and process their ballots.

“The longer ballot won’t directly delay results,” explained Michael Ertel, supervisor of elections for Seminole County. “But longer ballots do mean longer lines of voters.  At 7 p.m., those longer lines could mean the precinct will close later, thus the results would only be reported after the polling place closes.”

Brian Corley, supervisor of elections in Pasco County has also been stressing the importance of sample ballots.

“We have been and will continue to preach the importance of voters being #ElectionReady and each voter is sent a sample ballot in which they can do the research on the candidates and issues and show up to vote and by simply transposing their selections from their sample ballot to the actual ballot, it will greatly speed up the process for them and the other voters behind them.”

Ertel said the two-page ballot has also caused a significant change to the county’s spoiled ballot procedure for poll workers.

And elections officials in Florida are not alone. From coast to coast voters and election administrators will be faced with long ballots this year.

In St. Louis County, Missouri, voters will be faced with a 19-inch, front and back ballot, which may be the longest ballot in the county’s history. In addition to numerous candidates, there will also be 15 countywide questions/propositions for voters to wade through.

Eric Fey, the Democratic Director of Elections for St. Louis County said the elections office’s paramount concern was keeping the ballot on one page since voters and poll workers have never experienced a two card ballot. As a result they altered the font size on the ballot in addition to eliminating some headings. This is not optimal, but Fey said they thought having two pieces of paper was even worse.  

“It is not costing us anything extra to print these ballots, but it is wreaking havoc with our ability to print in house and fold the ballots,” Fey said. “Our in house ballot on demand printers have a very difficult time duplexing (printing front and back) the 19” ballot. As a result, we have ordered more absentee ballots from our printer.”

Fey said the folding of the absentee ballots will make running these through the scanner problematic and it may very well take extra time to scan these ballots. That being said, Fey does not anticipate it taking any longer to process the ballots on election.

“What we are more worried about is the amount of time it will take people to vote. Missouri is an excuse only absentee state which means 90 percent of voters vote at their polling place on Election Day. We deploy DRE’s and paper ballots to every polling place. We don’t have any additional DRE’s to send out, so we anticipate a higher than normal amount voters switching over to paper ballots when the lines for the DRE’s get long,” Fey said. “We are sending additional paper ballots and voting booths to hopefully accommodate the influx. We have been timing some our absentee voters so far and it has been taking an average of about 9 minutes to complete the ballot.”

 Voters in Denver will face their longest ballot since the state moved to a vote center/vote-by-mail format. In addition to candidates, the three-card ballot also includes multiple local initiatives. Denver Elections will spend about an additional $114,200 to print the ballot.

Although the city is vote-by-mail/vote center, Denver Elections has been very proactive about encouraging voters to complete their ballots at home and drop them off, early. State law allows Denver Elections to begin processing ballots before Election Day.

“As usual, we are advising voters to not wait until the last minute to vote. We have 28 24-Hour Ballot Drop-off Boxes available starting October 15 and most of our Vote Centers offer drive-through ballot drop-off, so there is no reason to wait until Election Day,” explained Alton Dillard, spokesman for Denver Elections. “If you’ll pardon the pun, you reach a point of diminishing returns when you grind through into Wednesday morning with the vote count so we are planning to wrap the count at Midnight and get our team rested so they can resume the count Wednesday morning.”

Dillard said in his meetings with local news room management he’s warning them about the three card ballot. The ballot itself contains language asking the voters to vote all cards and all sides as do the ballot instructions, which is a switch from the primary where unaffiliated voters were instructed to only return one ballot card. Dillard said Denver Elections will also continue to do strong social media campaigns once the ballots drop in a week or so.

In Yellowstone County, Montana, Elections Administrator Bret Rutherford has gone on the offensive with expectations about results. The county has a two-page ballot with the front page being candidate races and the back being initiatives. Rutherford announcedrecently that the results from page one of the ballot will be available on election night and the results from page two will come the next day.

“The majority of the public interest will be for the races,” Rutherford said. “The second sheet has two initiatives.”

It will cost the county about $25,000 extra to print the ballot and despite the added time to count the ballots, Rutherford doesn’t anticipate it will take any longer for voters to vote on Election Day.

“Two pages will not affect the lines on election day,” Rutherford said. “We have plenty of overflow areas to use if people are in the booths for extended time.”

Additionally, a majority of the county’s voters typically cast their ballot by mail.

Planning for the future
While ballots are now complete for the 2018 election, as more and more jurisdictions move to consolidate elections and voters are facing numerous initiatives, it’s never too soon to start thinking about the next long ballot.

Dana Chisnell and Whitney Quesenbery with the Center for Civic Design have some great advice for elections officials.

“The most important message is to keep each contest on same page in a single column,” Quesenbery said. “Splitting a contest is the single biggest way to cause errors, because voters will often mark a candidate in each part of the contest.”

Citing the 2018 California primary with more than 28 candidates running for governor, Quesenbery said there were a few things that helped but did not completely solve the over-voting problem:

  • Strong headers extending across the 2 columns
  • Darker lines around the contests to emphasize the boundary
  • Stronger message in the header emphasizing the number of candidates
  • Nothing else in the columns with the large contests
  • Make the header for the large contests take up extra vertical space, so they call attention to themselves, and set the contest off from the one next to it. 

Ballot Graphinc

With many counties being forced to move to two cards to accommodate all the candidates and ballot questions, Chisnell and Quesenbery said it’s important how elections officials talk about the ballot itself. Reinforce the number of pages and not the number of cards for example.

“Because the ballots are double-sided, the second most important thing is to put a navigation prompt at the bottom of the right hand column if at all possible. The typical banner across the bottom doesn’t work. It’s basically invisible,” Chisnell said. “In a study we (and friends) did in 2008 in Sarasota County, even the poll workers were unlikely to vote the second side without the prompt at the bottom of the column (versus then bottom of the card).” 

There is more great advice in the Center for Civic Design’s Field Guide: Designing usable ballots.

Two things everyone interviewed agreed about are open lines of communications with voters about what to expect at the polls and afterwards and if at all possible, vote-by-mail.

“Oh! AND — They should encourage people to vote by mail if at all possible because longer ballots will probably cause longer lines at the polling place,” Chisnell said in parting.

Thanks to Mindy for chasing down these ballots; they highlight the importance of voters “reading ahead” about what’s on their ballots so they aren’t surprised on Election Day. In addition, long ballots will not only mean a slower voting experience for many but will likely slow results on Election Night as well. Best of luck to every one involved and here’s hoping it’s not a … long night. [Sorry.] Stay tuned!

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