Information design in Politics 2

In a previous post, it has already been highlighted the importance of information design in political issues related to economic advice and the visualisation of polling results. Similarly, this post discusses different aspects in which information design principles could benefit a voting system.

In Argentina, since May, local elections have been taken place in each different province. The interesting factor of the last ones, which took place in Santa Fe (a province in the North of Buenos Aires), was the adoption of a different voting system, referred as the single ballot (in Spanish as Boleta única). For Argentina, this system has been completely new; voters and authorities had to learn it from scratch. Both how-to-vote manuals for different audiences and new ballot layouts had to be designed, among other new pieces of information (i.e. how-to-do videos, websites, merchandising).
It is interesting to analyse some of those pieces of information and how information design principles had been key for their appropriate understanding and satisfactory election procedures.

The single ballot (Boleta única)
A difference from previous voting systems, this one replaces the traditional long list by a single ballot as big as a legal sheet of paper. In a single ballot, all candidates for each electoral category are indicated in one sheet of paper and identified by name, surname, political party and a picture. Voters must mark with a cross (or any other type of clear sign), their choice. This box could be on the left or right hand of each candidate’s information, depending on the layout.

Traditional ballot in list format used in Argentina.

Last May, people had to vote five categories: governor and vice-governor, senators, representatives, mayor and councillors. To facilitate the identification of each category, a different colour was attached to each category. As a result, each voter had to complete a set of five ballots.

A different colour is attached to each category. Green for governor and vice-governor (G); blue for senators (S); orange for representatives (D); red for mayor (I) and yellow for councillors (C). (Image from the manual of CIPPEC-Gobierno Santa Fe. Secretaría Electoral)

In each single ballot, in addition to the box for each candidate, a ‘blank vote’ box is located after the last candidate’s name. Voters must tick on that box if they would like to vote in blank; otherwise, if they do not mark that box, their vote will be void and null.

Consequently, in each polling station, sets of five colour-coded ballot boxes are placed in which voters have to introduce their marked ballots into the appropriate colour. Voting authorities are the people responsible to give the set of new ballots and a pencil to each voter, and control the voting process. Moreover, each authority must sign each ballot before handing it to the voters.

Once the voter has made his/her decision, each ballot should be folded twice (according to the dot lines in the back) before being introduced into the corresponding ballot box to keep the vote anonymous and secret.

On the back of each ballot there is space for each authorities’ signature and two dot lines indicating the place the ballot should be folded. (Official single ballot used during the elections of May 2011 – Santa Fe)

Information design principles
E
fficacy. The single ballot is introduced as a system which greatly decreases time in two ways. First, it improves the time spent to vote. More than one person can vote at the same time as many voting cubicles are placed in each polling station. Moreover, voters do not have to waste time cutting and paying attention to select the correct part of the ballot and include all the corresponding candidates in the envelope.
Second, once the election is completed, it also improves authorities’ time for counting the votes as ballots are already organised by category. In case, a ballot would be in the incorrect ballot box, it would be easily recognised as it would have a different colour than that of the rest ballots.

Information organisation. The information architecture model for the single ballot should be different and more complex than that of the traditional ballot. Among other changes, the single ballot has a highly complex function, setting an interactive relationship with the voters, and needing new types of information. Therefore, traditional types of information are adapted and rearranged to its new needs.
The order of candidates within each ballot is determined by lot, the internal lists of each political party will be preceded by the number of their political party in the general drawing, followed by the order number that corresponded to the list. Thus, the new terminology will be 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 to identify each candidate, in which “1” is the political party, and “3”, the level of importance on the list.

Consequently, the organisation rationale will also respond to different types of information. As a result, the single ballot should have different hierarchies of information and an overall structure rearranged according to those variables. In visual terms, the name/title of each list, like ‘Vote list 109’ is not the main information anymore, but the identification numbers of each candidate (see Understanding section).

The overall structure should cluster in a clear way all the information related to each candidate and political party (i.e. other members of the list). As can be seen in the images above and below, single ballots group candidates’ information in horizontal blocks. A single ballot should include a space on the back of the ballot for the signature of each authority (see image above), data that before were included in a polling envelope.

Example of horizontal information blocks. Each block groups information about a specific candidate.

Understanding. In Argentina, the single ballot  system was easily understood for a high percent of the voters. According to the Perfil newspaper, more than 80% of people who used this system in the past elections found it ‘easy’ to use. To make this possible, Santa Fe’s government launched ‘How-to-vote’ guides and websites, including videos and online advice to explain the new process of voting with single ballots.

Guide designed for the Government of Santa Fé to introduce and inform voters about the new voting system

Guide designed for the Government of Santa Fé to introduce and inform voters about the new voting system

Infographic guide designed for El Litoral newspaper of Santa Fe

The single ballot gives voters a clear overview of all lists and candidates of a same category. The new terminology noted above was also easily comprehended and adopted as slogans changed from: vote list “X”, to vote the candidate “1.2”.
In addition, the colour-coded greatly facilitated voters to distinguish each category and to speed up their decision-making processes.

Information design layout
Based on the above principles and variables,  designing single ballots can have a wide range of different layouts. However, all of them should have a similar content distribution, which clearly emphasise each political party and its candidates in a block, identified with the candidate’s number, and corresponding sub-numbers. The boxes in which an individual marks his or her votes should be close enough to the appropriate candidate’s information and be in an appropriate size to be seen for all voters, and with enough space to write the cross or sign. The colour attached to each category should be different enough from that of the other categories.
A single ballot should be synthetic and well structure, no containing additional information at all.

Previous model of single ballots (2005)

Previous model of single ballot (2007)

The design of a single ballot should also contemplate some people’s special needs, such as that of blind people and people with sight difficulties. The ballot information written in Braille could be a possible solution.

A good understanding
Based on voters’ opinions and comments, the single ballot system can be described as effective and efficient, and classified as highly satisfactory for almost all voters in Argentina. The influence of information design principles can be seen in the infographic guides and ballot designs. It’s not the aim of this post to judge if the ballot designs were nice or not, but to point out the importance of a robust previous analysis to organise ideas and clarify understandings to be able to properly explain that (complex) information to third parties. In this case, through infographics and interactive guides.
Hopefully a next step will be to adopt this voting system in national elections.

Some references
http://www.ellitoral.com/index.php/diarios/2011/02/13/politica/POLI-05.html
http://www.boletaunicacba.com.ar/index.html
http://www.perfil.com/contenidos/2011/08/07/noticia_0020.html



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