Scotland's Secession Ballot Is Freakishly Simple. Here's Why That Matters

Scotland's Secession Ballot Is Freakishly Simple. Here's Why That Matters

If there's one area other than brown liquor where the Scots have an advantage over the U.S., it's ballot design:

Source: LEON NEAL/Getty Images

Poor ballot design continues to mar elections across the United States, despite the total electoral disaster that culminated in Bush v. Gore in the 2000 presidential election. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that a combined total of more than half a million votes were not counted due to voter errors that imply poor ballot design in 2008 and 2010 alone. For context: Barack Obama's electoral margin of victory in Ohio was around 166,000 ballots. Had around 446,000 votes been different in 2008, Slate notes, we could be watching President McCain make televised announcements on the battle against the Islamic State.

The Brennan Center notes that poor design increases the risk of lost or misrecorded votes among all voters, but the risk is even greater for particular groups, including low-income voters and the elderly. Plus, the rise of absentee and provisional voting since the disastrous 2000 presidential elections has only increased the importance of appropriate ballot design in ensuring that elections are fair and effective.

"American elections are messy at least in part because of our values: a strong belief in state and local control; a legal structure to match; a background distrust of national government; a desire to integrate new citizens; and a warm embrace of direct democracy, i.e., ballot measures," wrote Mark Vanhoenacker in 2013. "Our blanket refusal to learn from other countries is generally a handicap—but ballot design may be the exception(alism) that proves the rule."

I mean, compare this Swiss ballot to this Massachusetts one. Which one is easier?

Source: Slate

Plus, remember this famous image of a Florida election official in 2000? 

Source: Robert King/Getty Images


That's easier said than done, of course: Vanhoenacker notes that, in most other countries, "ballots are designed nationally, even for local elections. U.S. ballots are designed by a huge variety of local jurisdictions, often operating within some seriously nutty state mandates."

But its worth examining the Scottish experience: No matter how Scotland's independence referendum shakes out, let's learn a lesson from the Scots and aim for simplicity. Our democracy depends on it.