Campaigns routinely spend millions of dollars on get-out-the-vote drives, but it’s money down the drain if voters can’t figure out the ballot. That’s where Drew Davies comes in. The college art major has parlayed his knack for graphic design into a career as one of the nation’s premier ballot fix-it guys. His job description may come as a surprise to those who assume that the federal government has ironed out the kinks since the 2000 presidential election uproar in Florida. As Mr. Davies can attest, there are still causes for concern. He sees ballots jammed with races, impossibly tiny print and fill-in bubbles that don’t quite align with candidates’ names. “It’s not just about prettying things up,” said Mr. Davies, who founded Oxide Design in 2001 after earning a fine arts degree from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Design is affecting our democracy. It’s affecting your lives. Look at the election in 2000: Bad design affected your life.” His work with the nonprofit Center for Civic Design to create 10 pocket-sized field guides for state and local election officials has been honored by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, which will showcase the pamphlets as part of an exhibit starting Sept. 30.
The project grew out of a comprehensive best-practices document on ballot design adopted in 2007 by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. It is a nearly 400-page tome that hardly anybody reads.
“They delivered a copy to every election commissioner across the nation, but we joke that it got filed next to the Ark of the Covenant,” said Mr. Davies. “I’m not sure how many people even cracked the spine. In retrospect, it’s just way too daunting.”
He and Dana Chisnell, co-director of the Center for Civic Design, responded by taking the document’s most critical information and boiling it down to streamlined presentations for elections officials nationwide.