Daughter of "Madam Butterfly":

John Fund writes in the Wall Street Journal's Political Diary about the new confusing-ballot controversy. Apparently absentee ballots in Cuhayoga County, Ohio (which includes Cleveland) "have arrows designed to be used with voting machines, where the arrows line up correctly with the candidate's name. But when used by an absentee, the ballot instructions tell absentee voters to punch the corresponding number but don't specifically say to disregard the arrows." Here is the relevant portion of the ballot:

Fund reports that "Either John Kerry or George W. Bush's arrow could be misaligned, depending on the order in which the names appear on the ballot."

UPDATE: A couple of readers have e-mailed me to suggest that the story may not be accurate, and that the image cited above may have a "1" removed from before the "2" and the "4." I don't have the time to investigate the matter closely, but I just want to flag that there's some uncertainty about it. Here, though, is the original source, an AP story.

FURTHER UPDATE: Reader Douglas McKinnie writes:

Re: readers suggesting that the image cited may have a "1" removed from before the "2" and the "4." I am a Cuyahoga County absentee voter. My ballot looks exactly like the one in your image, except that below section 1-3 for president there is section 2-11 "Official Office Type Ballot" for US Senator and for representative to congress, 10th District, with similar randomization of names/numbers. The numbers appear to be assigned in alphabetical order for each office by surname of candidates. I punched the card and posted the ballot back a week ago and didn't think the funny numbers or superfluous arrows to be worthy of any note.
In a follow-up, he writes:
The number for Badnarik-Campagna is 2, the number for Bush-Cheney is 4, that is right. Senator Voinovitch is 21, followed by Democrat challenger Fingerhut who is 20. Congressman Kucinich is 25, followed by Ferris(i) 23 and Herman (r) 24.
So as best I can tell the picture quoted above is authentic, notwithstanding the objections noted in the first UPDATE.
More on the supposedly confusing Ohio absentee ballot:

My former student Patrick Lewis writes:

Took four pics of the absentee ballot today down at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. I also have the absentee voter booklet (but not the absentee ballot itself) in my possession. I'm waiting on our tech people to pull the pics off the digital camera . . . .

The conclusion: the Cuyahoga County absentee ballot is not significantly confusing. It's possible someone might get thrown by the user-unfriendly layout of the ballot card (it's the same card you shove in the voting machine), but I highly doubt that many people will be lining arrows up to cards.

Why do I think that?

1. The ballot is 12" long and roughly 4" wide (so, just a bit longer than a standard #10 envelope), whereas the booklet (that contains the list of candidates and the alleged arrows) is 5" x 7". I doubt that most ordinary people would attempt to line up a multi-page booklet with a single sheet ballot card, especially when the card is of a radically different shape and size, and the layout of the card doesn't match the layout of the booklet.

2. There is a cover page to the ballot, and on the second page (behind the cover page) is a sheet of instructions that clearly state to use the number on the ballot. The instruction sheet makes no mention of the arrow whatsoever. Most ordinary people are smart enough to figure out "to vote for #2, punch #2."

3. It would become immediately obvious to any voter that he or she is doing it wrong because, on 3/4 of the booklets, a higher-numbered choice goes above a lower-numbered choice for the Presidential ballot, whereas on the actual ballot card, the numbers are sequential. The Cuyahoga County ballot cycles the candidates for the different elections. For example, on my booklet, the list of Presidential candidates are:


It's kind of hard to line the arrow up to the 10 with 2 appearing below it.

(And on another absentee booklet, the order went Kerry, Disqualified, Pertouka, Badnarik, Bush; it's not random, but it is a cycled, alphabetical list).

Take care! I'll get you the pictures when I can.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Ohio absentee ballots:
  2. More on the supposedly confusing Ohio absentee ballot:
  3. Daughter of "Madam Butterfly":
More on Ohio absentee ballots:

My student Sean Hayes writes:

Just read your post on the absentee ballot in Ohio. I voted yesterday by absentee for Ohio--I'm from Dayton, which is in Montgomery county. The same complaints from Cuyahoga are present on the Montg. County ballot.

Your student is right: the ballots are not confusing. Yes, the numbers don't line up, some candidates are deleted, and in my voter booklet, the senate candidate race wasn't even part of the book, but just a loose sheet of paper.

Overall though, the concept is simple: find your candidate, find their number on the ballot; punch the hole. It blows my mind that people smart enough to complain about the ballot being a violation of their rights are too stupid to figure out what amounts to a voting inspired version of Chuck E. Cheese's Whack-A-Mole Game.

This is nothing more than the press feeding its need to have a story, and "Florida could happen again!" is much more exciting than "Voting Procedures Understood By People of Average Intelligence."

I think well-designed ballots should be understandable even by people of below average intelligence -- there are quite a few voters like that, and one doesn't want them to be confused, either. More to the point, ballots should be understandable by people who are intelligent but who are distracted, or who don't invest much time in following directions closely (especially on matters, such as voting, where there's little tangible personal benefit at stake).

Still, it sounds like the ballots might well not be very confusing even to the distracted or easily confused. I'm happy to trust Sean Hayes' and Patrick Lewis's judgment on this, since they saw the complete ballots from a voter's perspective, and I didn't.