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Ballots, voter information and polling place materials can be made clearer,
more effective, and easier for citizens to use with attention to a few design
recommendations. These tips are based on design practice and usability testing with
election materials. The election experience will be improved whether they
are implemented one at a time or all at once.
AIGA Design for
Democracy’s top 10 election design guidelines are derived from
the U.S. Election Assistance Commission report Effective
Designs for the Administration of Federal Elections. Complete guidelines, editable
samples, and information on connecting with professional designers is at
designfordemocracy.org. State or local
laws that prescribe font sizes, typefaces or use of capital letters may prevent some elections officials from fully implementing these guidelines. Design for Democracy can support elections
officials in requesting law changes that would enable full implementation.
Lowercase letters are more legible than ALL CAPITAL LETTERS
because they are easier to recognize.
Left-aligned type is more legible than centered type, which
forces the eye to stop reading in order to find the start of the
“Fine print” is hard to read and may intimidate or alienate
voters. Use minimum type sizes: 12-point for optical scan; 25-point
for touchscreens. (Following this principle for optical scan
ballots may impact printing costs but will be a worthwhile
investment in election accuracy.)
Avoid introducing new fonts, which require the eye to stop
reading and adjust. Sans-serif fonts with clean strokes (Arial, Helvetica, Univers, Verdana) are recommended for screen and for the quantity
and variation of text found on paper ballots. For dual-language
materials, use bold text for the primary language, regular text for
the secondary language.
For optical-scan ballots, offer comprehensive instructions and
page numbering. For touchscreen ballots, offer language and mode
options, continuous access to instructions, consistent and flexible
navigation and clear feedback about selections. Post notable
wayfinding and instructional materials in and around the polling
State instructions and options as simply as possible. Summarize
referenda in simple language alongside required formats. Do not
include more than two languages on any one material.
Visual instructions help low-literacy and general-population
voters. Photo images, which are difficult to shoot and reproduce
well, are not recommended. Illustrations must be accurate in their
details to avoid misleading voters.
Avoid political party icons. Icons that call attention to key
information and support navigation are recommended in limited
Use color and shading consistently: on optical scan ballots, to
differentiate instructions from contents and contests from each
other; and on touchscreen ballots, to support navigation, call
special attention and provide user feedback. Color cannot be relied
on as the only way to communicate important information.
Page and screen layout and text sizes should support information
hierarchy. For instance, the ballot title should be more prominent
than any one contest, a contest header should be more prominent
than its candidates' names and a candidate's name should be bolder
than his/her party affiliation. Candidates' names and options
should be presented with equal importance.
Note: Design for Democracy, a strategic initiative of AIGA, the professional association for design, has worked on election
design reform since 2000 and developed both the full EAC report and this list of guidelines. Guidelines are based on best
practices in communication design, consultation with election officials nationwide, and extensive voter testing.
Through the AIGA Chicago Mentor Program, a group of Chicago-based graphic designers designed a newspaper to inspire and inform Chicago high school students about the power, potential and possibilities of design.
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