One in Three Surveyed Voters Found Problems with Ballot Design and Font Size

New York, November 9, 2010 – As part of the New York City Council’s oversight of the New York City Board of Elections, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Governmental Operations Chair Gale A. Brewer, and good government advocates today announced results of the Council’s nonpartisan Election Day survey. Surveyed voters most frequently cited issues of ballot design, font size, and lack of privacy among the problems encountered on Election Day. Nearly 1,200 New Yorkers from at least 300 different poll sites across the five boroughs completed the Council’s online, anonymous voter experience survey.

“On November 2nd, over a thousand New Yorkers literally took voting and poll site evaluation into their own hands,” said Speaker Quinn “The results of the Council’s survey show that ballot design and font size is a real problem for many of the New Yorkers. We look forward to working with our local good government partners on the different ways we can improve the layout of the ballot. Through conducting this survey, we also learned that most New York City voters you talk to are thrilled to provide feedback on what went right, what went wrong and how the Board can improve the voter experience for the next election. Surveying voters on their experiences at the polls is an extremely easy and essential evaluation tool that the Board of Elections should implement.”

“This survey allowed us to gather important information on voters’ experience on election day—something that the Board of Elections has been unable to do,” said Governmental Operations Chair Gale A. Brewer. “Today’s results show that Election Day experiences varied – some New Yorkers voted with no incident while others struggled with the new ballots and machines. We’re looking forward to using the data as part of the Committee on Governmental Operations’ continuing oversight of the Board. We’re grateful that good government groups and so many members of the public have committed to volunteering for this project.”

Results from this informal survey and comments provided by voters indicate that ballot design and font size was a significant problem for surveyed voters. When asked if the ballot was “difficult to read or confusing” over a third of the sample voters responded yes (see page 7). A significant number of surveyed voters elaborated on the ballot design and font size in the comments field stating:

“Between the low light and tiny print, the ballot was almost unreadable. I didn’t have my reading glasses with me, so I hope I marked it correctly.” Washington Heights

“The print on the ballot was terrible. It was too small. It looked like the telephone book and having the magnifier there added insult to injury.” Jackson Heights

“The print is too small. I felt like I was taking an Eye Exam!” Sheepshead Bay

“The ballot text was very small. I had difficulty squinting just to make out the names, it almost made me get a headache. I nearly gave up voting right away.” Woodhaven

“Writing is too small and appears jumbled. [The ballot] will definitely prove difficult for many.” Port Richmond

“The text is too small and the spacing/organization of the information is not clear and reader friendly and can cause some confusion and frustration.” Harlem

In the case that any voter has difficulties reading or marking the ballot, poll workers are trained to instruct voters to use a Ballot Marking Device (BMD). These machines allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently and can also be helpful for any voter who may otherwise have trouble reading or making their ballot. When asked if a poll worker suggested using a Ballot Marking Device, over a quarter of surveyed voters said that they were not made aware of the BMDs.

“Poll workers were explaining the actual ballot measures, not simply explaining how to mark the paper for whatever choice the voter made. BMD was not mentioned as option even though many voters could not read the ballot whose print was so tiny.” Woodside

“My wife helped me with my ballot. The BMD would have been a great help.” Middle Village

“Not only was I not advised of the BMD, when I indicated that I wanted to use the device, the poll worker said to me “you don’t really want to use that, do you?”” Bedford-Stuyvesant

Surveyed voters also provided many comments about lack of privacy at the polls. Specifically, privacy issues ranged from poll workers not offering privacy sleeves to poll workers handling voter’ ballots without their consent. When asked if poll workers offered privacy sleeves or folders to keep ballots private, nearly a quarter of those surveyed said no (see page 9).

“Privacy sleeves were available for usage but were not offered (had to look for them). . . . Also I had to ask the poll worker to give me privacy at the scanner.” Chinatown

“There was no privacy. Almost everyone who voted when I was at the polling place required help, exposing what should be a confidential vote to the inspection of poll workers.” Stuyvesant Town

“It seemed weirdly open, exposed. I didn’t ask for assistance or a “sleeve” but I would have if I’d known it was available. I felt uncomfortable walking over to the scanner and holding my votes, which were clearly visible to my neighbors. And having the person there to help with the scanner was necessary, but I felt exposed then too.” Chelsea

“I was concerned with the lack of privacy at a variety of stages in the voting process. To begin with, the “privacy booths” were so close together that I could have looked over my any of my neighbor’s shoulders to see who/what they voted for. Once I completed the voting form, even though I had the “privacy form” there was no way to protect my privacy as I placed my voting form into the electronic voting machine. Especially because there was a monitor right next to the machine “assisting” me, even though I didn’t ask for assistance.” Wakefield

“I was very uncomfortable with carrying my ballot around with my votes exposed. No one offered a privacy sleeve, and even if they had, I still had to put my ballot into the scanner face up with the votes visible to those around me.” Tribeca

“The new machines would be fine if privacy was ensured. After asking the poll worker not to look at my ballot she still insisted on looking at it to see if I filled it in properly after it had an error message instead of simply allowing me to retry. It seems like this is not the best new solution and there should be a more clear and productive way to vote in this City.” Upper East Side

Statistical breakdowns of each survey question are provided in pages 5 – 12.

Over 100 volunteers from the City Council and good government organizations including New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG); Citizens Union; League of Women Voters; and the Center for the Independence of the Disabled as well as Make the Road New York informally surveyed voters on their voting experience as they exited their poll sites. Volunteers then entered results into an online survey tool. Additionally, New Yorkers who called 311 with problems at the polls were also directed to the City Council’s survey, which was published on both the city’s website ( and the 311 website (

“The Council’s survey of voters gives a mixed picture of the general elections. On the positive side, polling sites opened on time and those surveyed did not complain of long lines. On the other hand, the surveyed showed that riders had to cope with hard-to-read ballots and often poorly-trained poll workers,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

“Citizens Union was pleased to participate in the Council’s survey of voters’ experiences on Election Day. This collaborative effort shows that with limited resources, meaningful data on voters’ experiences can be quickly captured to evaluate the Board’s Election Day performance. If we all can do it, the question becomes why can’t the Board?” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “In addition, a good deal of the problems voters encountered could have been addressed had the Board posted online a sample ballot for review prior to voters casting their ballots. In a CU analysis released last week, we discovered that 26 county boards across the state provided voters with ballots in advance of voting yet the City Board was unable to. The Board should be evaluated just like other city agencies so accountability and performance will be enhanced.”

“The League of Women Voters of the City of New York was pleased to be a part of the City Council’s nonpartisan Election Day volunteer survey,” said Kate Doran of the League of Women Voters. “We have been heartened and encouraged by the Council’s close and careful oversight of the Board of Elections and we are confident that continued monitoring will result in improved election administration and better service to the voters of the City of New York.”

The City Council intends to utilize survey responses as part of its November oversight hearing on the performance of the Board of Elections at the General Election and will also share the survey data with the Board of Elections.

The survey questions covered the spectrum of voting difficulties that occurred during the Primary Election, ranging from voting equipment malfunctions and late poll site openings, to inadequately trained poll workers and lack of privacy when casting ballots. At the Council’s Primary Day oversight hearing in September, the Board stated that problems would be corrected in time for the general election.

Since Primary Day, Speaker Quinn and Chair Brewer have sent multiple letters to the Board of Elections requesting that the agency develop stronger measures to evaluate poll site performance. Speaker Quinn and Chair Brewer also sent a letter to the Board’s commissioners last week urging them to conduct a public, nation-wide search for its next Executive Director.

On Election Day, Speaker Quinn surveyed voters at her polling site, PS 33 in Chelsea, after she cast her vote.