Thursday, January 6, 2011

Addabbo Eyes Ballot Reform

Many voters are not pleased with the new ballot machines unveiled during the 2010 primary and general elections. Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is introducing new legislation this year after fielding complaints about incompetent workforces and small ballot print.

Addabbo, Chair of the Senate’s Elections Committee, is sponsoring a new bill, S.609, during the legislative session in Albany this month, that amends election law by requiring that paper ballots use a simple and easy-to-read bold, enlarged typeface and by requiring that the State and New York City boards of elections (and those in the largest counties) have a full-time employee on staff trained in ballot design and usability. The newly introduced bill will take effect 60 days after it becomes a law.

Under the new bill, paper ballots will have easy-to-read type, such as Arial or Univers, and candidates' names, office titles and political designations. The reading form of all ballot questions submitted will be printed in capital letters followed by lower case letters of at least 12-point bold (black-faced) type.

“This was the most common complaint I heard on the campaign trail from my people, and I promised them that I would see it was fixed,” said Addabbo. “Current election law does not contain any requirements as to ballot readability or usability.”

Also, a new subdivision to the election law requires that the New York State and New York City boards of elections, as well as those in Erie, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, have one full-time staffer who is trained in effective ballot design and ballot usability.

Additionally, such an employee on the State board of elections must be available to re- view and advise the other counties on the proposed design and usability of their ballots for primary, gen- eral and special elections.

According to Addabo, these changes would help New York’s election ballots conform to the recommendations in the 2007 report by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the 2008 “Better Ballot” report by the Brennan Center.

“Expertise in ballot design and usability is lacking within our boards of elections,” said Addabbo. “However, no additional hiring should be necessary to meet the requirements for one full-time employee in the State board of elections and one in the election boards of each of our largest counties to develop the necessary ballot design and usability. Self-study of the extensive amount of literature in this field, along with some training courses, can significantly develop such expertise.”

Addabbo said he hopes that this and other similar bills can be voted on and approved early in the 2011 legislative session.

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