Third party political leaders are slamming the city Board of Elections over the “severely flawed, defective, and prejudicial” ballot design they say is in flagrant violation of state election law, according to a Nov. 4 press release.
Leaders and candidates from the Libertarian, Working Families, Reform, and Green parties say the ballot used in Tuesday’s election showed preference to the Democratic and Republican parties, which are afforded their own columns. Third party candidates are left to commingle in joint columns, providing them with a distinct disadvantage, advocates say.
Opponents of the design allege that third party voters run the unique risk of inadvertently selecting candidates they didn’t mean to vote for when they attempt to vote down the line the way Republican and Democratic voters are able to do. The danger is amplified by the new scanner machines, which don’t protect against voiding a ballot by accidentally selecting more than one candidate for the same office as lever machines did.
Tom Siracuse, the Green Party candidate for Manhattan’s City Council District 6, said the lack of third party influence in the BOE means that candidates from other parties don’t get a fair shake.
“If this ballot were a deliberate attempt to confuse third party voters, it couldn’t have been done better,” Siracuse said.
According to Siracuse, the BOE told Green party leaders that their candidates would be in ‘Column S,’ information the party then repeated in campaign literature. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case.
“We have people in that column that have nothing to do with the Green Party,” Siracuse said.
Bronx Council District 11 Green Party candidate John Reynolds said that a more egalitarian ballot design would also represent a positive development for candidates from the two major parties because of the impact third party candidates have on their election results.
“In a close election, Democrats and Republicans need to pay attention to this too,” Reynolds said. “It affects all of us.”
Director of Communications and Public Affairs Valerie Vazquez said the ballot is in compliance with election law and that the design choices were intended to remedy the BOE’s reliance on tiny typefaces that ballot legibility advocates say are difficult for many New Yorkers to read.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to increase the font size,” Vazquez said.
The issue has been repeatedly addressed by graphic designers, including AIGA, a national professional organization for designers. Alicia Cheng, co-founder of Brooklyn-based design studio MGMT.,agrees that the ballot design presents a “typographic challenge.”
“It’s a lot of information to fit on one sheet of paper,” said Cheng, who feels that the current design is “less than inviting.”
“They have to print in black and white, but you could use a tint of gray to identify each column. That’s a common spreadsheet delineator to make the eye sort of carry across visually,” she continued.
“The party names could be all caps and in bold, and that could at least help identify the party names,” Cheng explained.
Cheng also suggested nixing duplicated party names and eliminating unnecessary and confusing lines to make better use of space.
Third party leaders said they plan to seek legal advice about how best to proceed in encouraging the BOE to adopt a less preferential ballot design before the next election.
By Hannah Sheehan