Sarasota gets ready for March elections

There’s a good story in today’s Herald Tribune about the preparations for Sarasota’s upcoming March elections, when no doubt the county’s voting systems will be closely watched.

MIT colleague Ted Selker had two very good observations in this story:

Some researchers have criticized her design of the Nov. 7 ballot because she placed the governor’s race and the District 13 congressional race on the same touch-screen page.

That could have caused voters to miss the congressional race and could have been the reason for its 18,000 so-called undervotes, experts have said.

It is the sort of avoidable confusion that elections supervisors could easily circumvent, said Ted Selker, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project.

“If they just did a really, really simple thing — one race, one page — that would make a huge difference,” Selker said. “By putting a big one and a little one, you don’t see the little one.”


On Feb. 22 at 9 a.m., Dent’s office will hold so-called “logic and accuracy” testing to ensure that the ballots are positioned correctly on the touch-screens and that votes are being properly recorded.

It is also the time when people can contest the design of the ballot.

“If they have a problem with the ballot then, we can make adjustments,” Dent said.

But few people usually show up for the review, often leaving ballot approval to representatives from political parties.

Some elections experts would like the state to mandate that supervisors use samples of voters to test how they interact with ballot designs prior to elections.

“No ballot should ever be used without a bunch of people trying to vote on it,” Selker said.

Indeed, the L&A testing process is one where errors can and should be caught, but in order for these errors to be found, there does need to be broader involvement of researchers in the L&A process. Many election officials have worked to both publicize their pre-election L&A activities, and to involve the research community in that process (Thad and I have observed many L&A tests, in a number of jurisdictions, for example). Election officials should continue to reach out … but researchers should also step up here and help election officials test ballot designs and ballot logic when they have the opportunity.