Well, it looks like the State of Minnesota may be headed toward another costly and time-consuming recount. The Governor’s race this year has less than 9,000 votes separating the two major candidates, resulting in a possible mandatory recount. It’s worth mentioning that no Minnesota Governor has been elected by a majority since 1996. Minnesotans know this is a problem, and one organization turned to ThinkDesign to help devise a solution that could potentially provide our state with a fairer and more efficient election process.
Last year, ThinkDesign was asked by FairVote Minnesota to volunteer some time to design a new ballot for the city of Minneapolis in response to the city’s vote to utilize a Ranked Choice Voting system for municipal elections.
If you’re unfamiliar, Ranked Choice Voting (or Instant Runoff Voting) allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot according to their preference – fist choice, second choice, third choice, etc. Voters cast their vote for their favorite candidate knowing that if he or she doesn’t gather enough votes to win, their vote will count toward their second choice. In other words, no vote will ever be “wasted.” (See FairVoteMN.org for more information.)
There are a number of US cities that have begun to implement this system: San Francisco, CA, and Berkley, CA, are two, as well as a number of democracies including Ireland and Australia. The problem is that many existing RCV ballots are poorly designed and confusing, and therefore especially unsuitable for a city that is not yet educated on the new voting procedure.
We could talk all day about the significance of design in every facet of life. We are, after all, designers. With the introduction of a new type of voting, along with an unfamiliar ballot, we cannot stress enough the important role design has to play. We know how design can serve as a catalyst to overcome limitations and challenges, especially for this project. For example, can you believe that, at some point, a regulation was put into effect requiring seat titles on the ballot to be typed in all capital letters? Another major challenge was designing the ballot to be readable by Minneapolis’ existing electronic ballot machines. These older machines are designed to read traditional ballots and would not exactly allow the most effective design solution for the RCV ballot. We did our research and took the lead from the great work done on traditional ballots over at AIGA’s Design for Democracy. Below, on the left, is an example of the original RCV design provided by FairVote Minnesota, with ThinkDesign’s recommended design on the right.
After many iterations and an informal user test, we ultimately had to hand over our best effort to the official ballot producers, hope for the best, and wait to see its final form on election day. We are especially proud to advocate for the role design played in the success of introducing RCV to Minneapolis voters. The ballot’s design, along with excellent voter education efforts directed by the City and FairVote Minnesota, produced a seemless transition into a new way of voting. In it’s first election with the new method, Minneapolis experienced very few spoiled ballots and 95% of voters said they found the ballot “simple to use”.
Below is an example of the final iteration — a sample ballot available for voter education at FairVoteMN.org.