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Who Designed This Ballot?

More trouble brewing in Ohio: Reader Evan Rogers sent us this absentee ballot from Cuyahoga County (Cleveland). Click to enlarge:

Looking at the ballot, one would assume that to vote for President Bush, you’d punch out the green square opposite the arrow. Nope. The right square for Bush is the red one, number four, near the top of the column. That corresponds, I guess, to the number 4 next to the arrow, and I assume that voters are instructed in what those numbers mean. What makes it unreasonable is that to vote for John Kerry, you punch square six, the blue one, which is just opposite Kerry’s arrow. So Bush voters are likely to be confused; Kerry voters won’t be.
There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of such sources of confusion in various districts around the country. Depending on the election’s outcome, any of them could be grounds for post-election lawsuits.
UPDATE: We’ve gotten quite a bit of mail about this. The original source of the photo is a site called Electoral-Vote.com. A reader forwarded it to us.
One reader says that the directions on the ballot make it even more confusing. Mike Wise, however, thinks the confusion is misplaced:

The candidate/issues info booklet (shown on the left in your picture) is shipped completely separately from the punchcard ballot shown on the right. They do not arrive as shown on your website or attached in any way, and I can’t fathom why anyone would line the ballot and the booklet up the way it is shown in order to vote. The instructions given are to punch out the right NUMBER, not try to line them up. Given how much the numbering jumps around all over the ballot, it would be a huge hassle to try to line it up like that. It _is_ confusing the way you show it, but I can’t think why anyone would set it up like that to vote…

THE LAST WORD: This Associated Press story says that the Cuyahoga absentee ballots are indeed causing confusion. The source of the problem is that the ballots with arrows were designed to be used with voting machines, where the arrows line up correctly. But in the absentee ballot, the voter is supposed to disregard the arrows entirely:

The elections board in Ohio’s most populous county has fielded numerous calls from voters confused about the layout of absentee ballots. The problem occurs if voters align the ballot portion, which shows a candidate’s name, a number and an arrow, with the punch card, which also bears numbers. The numbers don’t always line up.
“It’s incredibly confusing,” said Aaron Greenspan, a 21-year-old absentee voter from Shaker Heights. “Every day that goes by, more people are going to send in these ballots and more of them are guaranteed to be wrong.”
Absentee voters are supposed to ignore the arrows and punch out the chad that matches the candidate’s number, Jacqueline Maiden, a coordinator with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said Wednesday. The punch cards and arrows are designed to work with machines used by people who vote in person on Election Day, she said.
“When the ballots are placed in the machines, the numbers line up with the arrows,” she said, sliding a sample ballot into a machine similar to the ones that will be used Nov. 2 to show how it lined up correctly.
The instructions tell absentee voters to punch the corresponding number but don’t specifically say to disregard the arrows. That has some voters worried, epecially because the outcome of the election is predicted to be close.
“The arrows shouldn’t be there if they want people to ignore them,” Greenspan said.

The AP article says that John Kerry’s arrow could also be misaligned, depending on the order in which the names appear on the ballot. I think that’s right. So my verdict is: anti-Bush conspiracy, no. Needlessly confusing, and a good example of the kind of issue that will be fodder for endless litigation and controversy if the election is close, yes.

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