Months after control of Virginia’s House of Delegates was decided by a disputed, mismarked ballot, the State Board of Elections will set new ballot requirements that include clearer instructions for voters. Proposed changes to be adopted March 23 address “a need for improved clarity and additional examples” and “a need for improved usability of ballots for voters based on best practices and research,” a memo to the three-member board said. Virginia would go from more general rules about what printed ballots should look like to two specific approved forms. One of the proposed forms would include voting instructions in the leftmost column on the front of a three-column ballot. The other secondary choice would place voting instructions across the top of a two-column ballot just beneath the header that lists the date and type of election.
Research from national elections groups, used as a reference for the new guidelines, finds voters are more likely to use the instructions when they are in the left column of a ballot than when the instructions are printed across the top. “Voters perform best with clear instructions of how to communicate their choice,” the memo said.
State law already required some type of instructions, but those instructions could vary from one jurisdiction to another.
The draft guidelines recommend black ovals be provided for voters to fully fill in next to the candidates they support rather than boxes or arrows that can be filled in with checkmarks, such as the current ballots Arlington and elsewhere. They also recommend accurate instructional illustrations that demonstrate how to vote correctly.