Confusing ballot design could affect U.S. Senate election outcome in Florida

The way the ballots were designed in Broward County could affect the outcome of the U.S. Senate election in Florida.

The Broward County ballot put the Senate race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott directly underneath the vertical instructions.

That design goes against the recommendations in the [U.S.%20Election%20Assistance%20Commission’s%202007%20design%20report]U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s 2007 design report, which said the commission found “test voters often overlooked races located immediately beneath vertical instructions.”

The governor’s race was at the top of the ballot in a separate column.

Election results posted on the Florida Division of Elections website show more than 26,000 people who cast their ballots in Broward County voted for governor but not for senator, indicating some voters may not have seen the Senate race on their ballots.

The possible oversight could be a blow to Democrats.

Broward County has more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

In fact, more Broward County voters registered as No Party Affiliation than Republican.

But can a confusing ballot format change the outcome of a race?

“Indeed, it can. I mean, I think we can see this in instances in history where, if the ballot is poorly designed, it can confuse voters. It can overwhelm voters. And they might not make the choices that genuinely reflect their intent,” said Dr. Arthur Vanden Houten, associate professor of political science at Flager College.

Vanden Houten pointed out Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot in 2000 as an example.

Now, Palm Beach County is the only county in Florida that still uses “complete the arrow” ballots, where voters draw a line to their candidate of choice.

“The problem is you see so many [times], in advertisements, a check mark. So, sometimes people want to put a check in the middle, and then the check will go up to the other one. So that’s why it’s the last system in the state of Florida, in one county, in Palm Beach. And it’s not a very effective system,” said Jerry Holland, who spent 10 years as Duval County Supervisor of Elections and is currently the county’s Property Appraiser.

The machines are supposed to spit those ballots back out if there’s an error.

Holland said it’s time to consider a uniform ballot format across the state.

“My goal is to see Florida not on the national news for elections,” said Holland. “What we try to do is look for something that is as clear to the voters as possible.”

Florida law already requires some statewide standards for ballots, like the format for abbreviating political parties and the order for listing candidates’ names.

But county supervisors of elections in Florida design their own counties’ ballots, including picking what state-approved voting systems and vendors they use.

Current Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan said more statewide uniform standards are unnecessary.

“Clarity has to be approved by the Secretary of State, especially on those races that the secretary of state covers, which would be the state races and the federal races,” said Hogan.

Thousands of ballots in this year's midterm elections were not counted for various reasons, including late registration and not filling out the form correctly.