In the years since Bush vs. Gore highlighted the inconsistent, patchwork and sometimes tenuous nature of the nation’s voting system, election officials throughout the country have taken steps to improve the process. But variety still abounds since that disputed 2000 presidential race, in part because the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment allocates power to the states, generally barring federal officials from imposing a single ballot design standard. Some voters still darken circles on ballots next to their choices. Others use an iPad-like device. In Oregon and Washington, elections are done through the mail. In New Jersey, voters cast their ballot on a grid that opponents of the design say gives an unfair advantage to established powers.
The United States Election Assistance Commission, established by 2002’s Help America Vote Act, reviews and certifies election technology. No New Jersey counties use certified technology. In the Northeast, only Delaware, one Maine county and five northern and western Pennsylvania counties use it.
Dana Chisnell, a usability researcher who has testified on ballot design at the Election Assistance Commission, said New Jersey’s is similar to New York’s and Connecticut’s in that it echoes older, lever-based machines.
Gary Stein, an independent candidate for the state Assembly, argues that this design helps concentrate power in the hands of the state’s political leaders, who have influence over which candidate gets a favored ballot position.