May 13, 2010

Ballot Design - 2010 Elections

What is the most important vote in the 2010 elections? It's the vote for the President and Vice President, of course. But examine the ballot for the elections and you don't see this reflected on the ballot real estate. (See picture, below).

I've added colored shading to dramatize the problem. The yellow shading is about 10% of ballot space used for the President and VP lists. In contrast, the orange shade represents about 70% of ballot space devoted to the Party Lists.

Other seemingly "small" things aggravated the problem further (and some suggested solutions):

  • The font used cramped the small boxes and made the names difficult to read. Instead of a tall, thin font, Times New Roman may have been sufficient.
  • Compare the President and VP boxes to those for the Party Lists. The latter had less characters, so the boxes had more white space. This means the Party List boxes could have been smaller. The freed-up white space could then be reallocated to the President and VP boxes.
  • There's also white space after Manny Villar's name. This could have further been redistributed.
  • The oval was too small, while the pen nib used was too big. Either improve the oval or nib, or next time, give the voter three practice ovals at the top of the ballot, just for practice-shading.

A note on redistributing white space. Smartmatic may argue that alignment is important to help the software make a more accurate count. I agree but disagree.

Alignment is indeed an issue (so I agree) but it is a trivial issue in terms of building software that could accurately count the votes on a ballot. This could have been easily solved by creating appropriate markings on the ballot to tell the software to start counting here, but stop counting there (for example). In short, software should be more tolerant of user quirks.

So one important lesson here is, in creating the ballot, the focus should be on the voters and how they would use the ballots. The electronic voting system should make the ballot as foolproof as possible. It should focus on preventing users (like Erap Estrada) from making wrong moves (like failing to vote for your own Vice President). That error is more costly.

Instead, what COMELEC/Smartmatic did was create their own ideal, easy-to-print-and-scan version of their ballot and forced everyone to adjust.

Design thinking -- or the lack of it -- played an important role in the Philippine 2010 elections.