The Impact of Ballot Type on Voter Errors

Authors


  • This work was supported in part by National Science Foundation grants EAI-0201634, IIS-0306698, and Carnegie Corporation of New York grant D05008. We would like to thank Benjamin B. Bederson, Frederick G. Conrad, and Michael W. Traugott for their collaboration on the larger project. We would also like to thank the voting system vendors, the participants in our study, the staff and undergraduate and graduate research assistants at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship of the University of Maryland, and numerous undergraduate and graduate research assistants at the University of Maryland, University of Rochester, and University of Michigan. For helpful comments we wish to thank Daniel Biggers, Ozan Kalkan, Irwin Morris, and participants in the University of Maryland American Politics Workshop, and the Rooney Center Visiting Scholar Speaker Series at the University of Notre Dame. We also wish to thank the five anonymous reviewers and the Editor for their close reading of the article and thoughtful suggestions and guidance. All errors are our own. The data used in this study can be found at http://www.capc.umd.edu/research/data_archive/Impact_of_Ballots_on_Voter_Errors_AJPS.html.

Paul S. Herrnson is Director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship and Professor of Government and Politics, 3140 Tydings Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 (herrnson@umd.edu). Michael J. Hanmer is Research Director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship and Associate Professor of Government and Politics, 3140 Tydings Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 (mhanmer@umd.edu). Richard G. Niemi is Don Alonzo Watson Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627 (niemi@rochester.edu).

Abstract

Studies of ballots have traditionally focused on roll-off, candidate order, and partisan advantage. This study is among the first to assess the impact of ballots on individual-level voter errors. We develop new hypotheses by bringing together theoretical insights from usability research and political science about the effects of ballots with and without a straight-party voting option. By comparing voters’ intentions to the votes they cast, we are able to create two measures of voter errors: votes unintentionally cast for the wrong candidate and unintentional undervotes. Voters generally make fewer errors of both types when using a standard office-bloc ballot than when using an office-bloc ballot with a straight-party option, with the number of wrong-candidate errors substantially exceeding the number of unintentional undervotes. Voters’ background characteristics have a significant impact on their ability to vote without error. Our results offer a new perspective for evaluating the use of the straight-party option.

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