Worst Design, Ever

In commemoration of the election season, I’ve recreated the infamous Palm Beach Butterfly Ballot from the 2000 election in a format that’s ready for printing. Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s clear that this is a perfect example of the import of usability in interface design, as Bruce Tognazzini explained in 2001. Is there another usability problem that’s had effects quite so far-reaching?

Something that’s always bothered me about the whole Florida debacle was the general public disdain for the Gore voters who mistakenly cast ballots for Pat Buchanan. In his book “The Nine” about the modern Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin writes of Sandra Day O’Connor’s thinking when considering the matter in Bush v. Gore:

She had convinced herself that the root of the issue in Florida was simply that some voters hadn’t figured out how to cast their ballots the right way. In her view, it wasn’t the job of election officials — or the courts — to puzzle over the true meaning of ambiguously marked ballots. If the voters didn’t bother to learn how to vote correctly, the state shouldn’t try to figure out what these hapless souls meant to do.

I think that people in my line of work instinctively cringe at this sort of sentiment because it’s antithetical to our worldview. O’Connor assumes that the user is at fault; our perspective is always that blame rests with the designer for leaving the interface open to misinterpretation.

I’m very heartened that there’s so much enthusiasm among voters this year (interesting times indeed). But the Butterfly Ballot is a cogent reminder that democracy comprises people, processes, and technologies that can break down when we don’t bother to pay sufficient attention to them.


1 comment so far

  1. chris daly on

    nice work, my man… 1 comment – in the actual butterfly ballot, the voters did not have the benefit of such large center line dots or such large rows for name/party of candidate.

    In the real actual ballot, the dot to paper ratio was much mroe in favor of paper… which did nothing but make the problem worse…

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