The Butterfly Ballot Effect


Much has been made of the placement of  Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033 on the King County ballot, somewhat hidden below the instructions on the left-hand side of the page, visually separated from the rest of the ballot questions. I-1033 opponents had raised alarms that this poorly designed ballot layout might depress the vote on the measure in our state’s most populous and anti-1033 county, causing many voters to miss the question entirely. And now that a large chunk of the results are in, it is clear that their fears were well founded.

Indeed, I-1033’s placement on the King County ballot is destined to become a classic case study in how ballot design can dramatically influence election outcomes… right up there alongside Palm Beach County’s infamous butterfly ballot.

In Washington’s 38 other counties, about 2.8% of ballots have thus far failed to register a vote on I-1033, a pretty typical “residual vote rate” for a high profile, statewide initiative. But in King County, a full 9.8% of ballots have thus far failed to record a vote for I-1033, a very statistically significant falloff from the statewide average, and entirely out of whack with the county’s historical performance on other such ballot measures.

The “residual vote rate” measures the total number of ballots for which no vote is recorded in a particular contest due to uncounted, unmarked or overvoted ballots, and as such it is often used to measure the effect of different voting technologies and interface designs on the incidence of lost votes. Of course some portion of the residual vote rate is due to voters choosing not to cast a vote in a particular race, a factor that can be fairly pronounced in low profile, down-ticket races. But voter choice simply cannot explain the extraordinary King County discrepancy.

A quick glance at this and other elections reveals that I-1033’s residual vote rate in King County is not only unprecedentedly high for a top-of-the-ticket measure, its huge variance from the statewide average is absolutely unheard of. For example, the equally high profile Referendum 71, appearing on the same ballot as I-1033, registered a 1.7% residual vote rate in King County, closely matching  the 1.8% rate for the state as a whole. Likewise, 2007’s I-960 — also a government limiting Eyman initiative, that also ran in an off-year election — recorded a 2.9% residual vote rate in King County, right in line with the 3.1% rate statewide.

Historically, residual vote rates for high profile statewide ballot measures simply do not rise much above a few percent, and they certainly don’t vary by more than a couple percentage points from county to county.

Until now.

So what’s to explain the fact that nearly one out of every ten King County ballots fail to register a vote for or against I-1033, a rate nearly two and a half times the statewide average? With 38 of our 39 counties now voting exclusively by mail, and most or all using the same mark sense technology, there can be only one explanation: poor ballot design… a visually confusing layout that inadvertently disenfranchised 7% of King County voters.

To put that in perspective, based on turnout projections, about 42,000 King County voters will have failed to vote on I-1033 simply because they didn’t find the question on the ballot, and with voters here overwhelmingly rejecting the measure 67% to 33%, this ballot-induced residual vote will end up costing the No side about 14,000 votes from their final statewide margin. Had this been a closer race, ballot design very well could have determined the outcome.

Ever since the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election, Republicans have howled in outrage over the bare handful of cases of known ballot fraud, demanding ever more restrictive and onerous procedures on both registration and voting. But as I have argued from the start, the real and present threat to our electoral process comes not from ballot and tabulation fraud — the evidence of which in Washington state is fleeting or nil — but from voter intimidation and suppression, intentional or not.

However pedestrian or accidental the cause, 42,000 King County voters were just disenfranchised, and yet we’ve heard nary a peep from the usual election reform suspects. Makes one wonder how much they really cherish our right to vote?


  1. 1

    Blue John spews:

    I can only assume that the usual suspects are silient because the disenfranchisment doesn’t really effect them. Making the ballot clearer wouldn’t forward their agenda.

    Some times you don’t see problem because you have been working on it for too long and are too close to it. It’s perfectly obvious TO YOU. Any number of badly written software manuals come to mind.

    What would be the consequences if they posted the design to a website for a week of review and comments? Would it allow the unscrupulous to game the system? Would that be enough to catch the problem?

  2. 3

    Truth Teller spews:

    The elections office should post their proposed ballot design on their website and allow public comment in time for changes to be made if necessary.

  3. 4


    No honest opinion polling operation would use such a flawed polling practice. But when it comes to the polls that choose pols, sure, whatever. The whole issue of voting procedure is a null area in US politics. Pols simply don’t care, the majority of the public doesn’t care, which leaves croakers like us, who don’t have enough direct power to make a difference.

    It would be possible to do usability studies on balloting. Then it would be possible to do a security study. Then we could do a study on turnout. We could do it. We have the technology. The will…?

    Hey, I know! Let’s hire NORC to redesign our electoral procedures. Croak!

  4. 5

    good thesis spews:

    excellent thesis but ignoring the massive swing of independents against the dems in nj and va. is unwarranted.

    that’s the big national news.

    “oh it’s not an referendum on Obama, he was not on the ballot, he still has high approval ratings” …right, have you noticed he won’t be on the ballot next year either in all those congressional and senate races? the ones we need all those independents to, um, you know, win? So that the conservadems don’t get afraid and not vote for stuff we want?

    But sure let’s have twenty more articles about mathematics and venturi diagrams and monte carlo this and andorra lichtenstein that.

  5. 6

    rhp6033 spews:

    Usually, it is the people who are in favor of a ballot initiative to make sure it is visable. Those who are opposed hope that those who are marginally interested don’t notice it, so their supporters can vote it down.

    This time, we had the rather unusual instance of the opposition to a ballot measure spending advertising time, money, and resources to place TV ads telling voters exactly where the item was on the ballot, so they could vote against it.

    Shows how confident they were that the more people knew about the measure, the more likely they were to vote it down.

  6. 8


    Jason @7: I think it’s more likely that public review would lead to more conflict without resolution.

    It occurs to me that our balloting procedures were designed to support elections from among a ruling elite. Within that elite, people knew each other, and discussed and communicated about the issues. We’ve dropped the restrictive elite without altering the procedures, and the result is chaos. We need to design a better way. NORC! NORC!

  7. 9

    Chris spews:

    Truth@3 and Jason@7

    While I would like Public preview/public comment to work, I have real suspisions it won’t. Public comment is a fallacy whereby the masses hope that one or two people care enough to go and spend time. How much public comment is recieved before something hits the newspapers? Usally very little. Take school closures in Seattle…early meetings nobody shows up. When it’s (in my opinion) very late in the process, that’s when people figure it out.

    This needs to come down to two thingsk, in my opionion. First, the elections director is responsible. Second, it sounds like the Council should pass a bill that modifies the law and requires issue placement standards be created and then enforced. That way, if the ballot doesn’t meet the standards, there is a court enforcable action.

  8. 10


    @5, no-one is saying your issues aren’t important, but they’re not the subject of this thread. This is not a discussion of abstract mathematics: this is about a result of an inadvertent (one hopes) experiment in polling methods as plain as my beak and my bright beady eyes. Croak!

  9. 11



    Luckily we can hold the elections director directly responsible for this travesty.

    But she can’t be fired for it. Thank you, dumb King County voters.

    Really, the ballot should be formatted as if it were a newspaper — put the top races at the top. Where do you always find the day’s biggest headline? At the top of the front page, usually the top right.

    All KCE has to do to rectify such a problem in the future is to think in rows rather than columns when formatting its ballot-order. In this election, then, I-1033 and R-71 would have been next to each other at the top of the ballot.

  10. 12


    Chris @9: “it sounds like the Council should pass a bill that modifies the law and requires issue placement standards be created and then enforced.”

    But what standards do we create? That is a very large problem, and I would hate to see the solution botched.

  11. 14

    YellowPup spews:

    Very interesting and startling.

    I can’t remember if there was spare white space on the second side of the ballot, but if so, I don’t see why they couldn’t have put Port Commissioner Pos. 1 to side two with the rest and given the instructions its own column.

    If there was no room on side 2, I’m not sure what they could have done, perhaps put a light gray background and thicker border/gutter around the instructions to set them apart more.

    Better instructions might have helped some, but I suspect that most people don’t read instructions.

  12. 15


    Hi Goldy.

    I guess I’m one of those usual election reform suspects.

    You’re correct that KCE disenfranchised 10% of voters.

    The problem is graphic design, not placement. The instructions look too much like the individual races/issues.

    I was paid to do user interface designer for a while. It’s something I care deeply about.

    Historically, design of paper ballots, like the columns and vertical spacing, have been dictated by the marksense ballot scanner hardware. Now that we’re using ballot image scanners, there are no such constraints. Meaning we have the opportunity for dramatically improving ballot design. (I’m not holding my breath.)

    There’s been acres of usability research about ballot design. Most of it focuses on the unusable touchscreens, trying to mitigate the damage.

    Usability testing on ballot design is trivial.

    If I was King, I’d get some graphic artists and usability experts together, give them a bunch of sample ballots, and tell them to brain storm improvements. Test the results. Iterate. No problem.

    This kind activity is something the EAC should be in charge of. (Or maybe NIST.)

    The election equipment vendors will need to be coerced into making any improvements. Improving usability is an overhead expense and wouldn’t improve their profitability. So we’d need to fashion some sort of punitive system where they’re (severely) punished for any form of disenfranchisement.

    Here’s just one pie in the sky scenario. Numbers are approximate for King County.

    Each mail ballot kit costs about $2.00 to produce. Times a million voters.

    500,000 ballots are cast (make it back to the elections department).

    A 10% residual voter rate (undervote) mean 50,000 votes lost.

    There are 20 issues on a general election ballot. So each vote costs 10 cents (production, not processing/tabulation).

    So King County tax payers paid $5,000 for votes that were lost by the vendor. Because it’s caused by incompetence and criminal disregard for basic human rights, I’d put use a x100 multiplier to calculate damages/penalties.

    So in this case Diebold would be liable for US$500,000.

    If vendors bore the costs of their mistakes, our elections administration would improve quite rapidly.

  13. 16


    Hi Goldy.

    Some trog will likely chime in about user error, personal responsiblity, blah, blah.

    Basically, they’ll blame the victim. And they’ll use some dumbass logical fallacy like “well, 90% of voters somehow got it right, what’s wrong with those 10%?”

    Blaming the user is fundamentally misanthropic (anti-human). Beliefs like that are based on ignorance, hate, and an inappropriate sense of superiority (or entitlement).

    A very good primer on this is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. He’s a cognitive psychologist, usability expert, and has studied how and why humans make mistakes. His basic thesis, which is utterly correct, is that human error is caused by bad design.

  14. 17

    Bruce spews:

    I think public review is the answer. Rules are only as good as the humans who enforce them; Florida already had a rule against butterfly ballots, and it’s hard to have rules against all bad designs such as the 1033 problem. The rules are enforced by elections directors, who I believe were Democrats in both cases; they were just careless or incompetent. In Florida both parties also signed off on the design; I’m not sure whether that happens in King County, but obviously that’s not foolproof either. A brief public comment period would create the possibility of disputes and lawsuits, but I’d rather deal with that in advance than just before, or after, election day.

  15. 18


    Chris @ 9

    Thanks for posting.

    First, the elections director is responsible.

    I disagree. Our Director of Elections must be held accountable. Sherril Huff is not responsible, as in caused, this error.

    The vendors caused this error.

    As our representative, I believe Huff should insist the vendor should give us better voting systems. That’s part of the job.

  16. 19


    The Raven @13:

    N in Seattle @11: I like your thinking. Only–how does the ballot designer decide what the top races are?

    The designer doesn’t. It’s my understanding — perhaps Jason Osgood knows for sure — that there is a prescribed order, set by RCW or WAC.

    Initiatives and referenda come first, followed by county races, federal races, and so forth.

  17. 20


    Note: I used “Diebold”, which isn’t technically correct, but everyone knows who I’m referring to.

    Diebold tried to sell off their elections equipment division. No buyers. So they spun off the business group and renamed it Premier Elections Solutions.

    Currently, competitor ES&S is buying Premier, raising monopoly and anti-trust issues.

    Here’s the fun part: ES&S is buying Premier for $5 million.

    People will recall our opposition to buying the latest, greatest gear from Diebold (our spiffy new system). A major point was the financial instability of the company. We predicted that Diebold was likely to go away.

    We were right.

    For $5m, King County could have bought Diebold outright.

    Here’s what will happen now…

    ES&S bought Diebold for the customer list and maintenance contracts.

    All development of Diebold products has stopped. ES&S will lie and say they’ll maintain the Diebold products.

    ES&S will have to show their investors revenue growth. The easiest way to do that will be to sell ES&S gear to existing Diebold customers.

    So all existing Diebold customers will be forced to switch. (All of the vendors have refused to support uncompliant customers in the past. ES&S will use strong arm tactics again.)

    I previously commented: The fight for the integrity of our elections is heating up. The worst is yet to come.

  18. 21

    Roots spews:

    So, the point is? 1. Was it intentional? No, everyone knew King County never met a tax or a democrat/liberal they would not vote for. 2. Is it significant regarding outcome of election? No, see one above. 3. Should it be avoided in the future? Yes, for two reasons. a) King County elections division needs something new to screw up since it is unlikely they can just go “find” more ballots if they want. and b. It could impact a close election like this year’s mayor’s race.

    Good points Goldy.

  19. 22

    Shotsix spews:

    The problem is quite apparent when you look at the ballot…which makes me think nobody at KC Elections actually reviewed the final layout (at least very thoroughly). Thank god this didn’t have a huge impact, but I would like to know how the hell they let it happen. I think it’s a ‘lose your job’ kind of mistake. Saving space is not a valid excuse.

  20. 23

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “Ever since the disputed 2004 gubernatorial election, Republicans have howled in outrage over the bare handful of cases of known ballot fraud …”

    That’s always struck me as mighty strange, Goldy, considering who committed the ballot fraud.

    After the 2004 election, the GOP spent $2 million on lawyers to get 4 fraudulent Rossi votes subtracted from the total.

    And of the 10 ineligible ex-felon voters who were willing to talk to reporters, 9 said they voted for Rossi.

  21. 24

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 That “massive swing” didn’t carry over into the congressional races on Tuesday’s ballot, both of which the GOP lost! And one of those governerships was in a Republican state. On the whole, you guys had very little to show for your time, money, and effort on Tuesday night.

  22. 25

    Chris spews:


    I disagree. Our Director of Elections must be held accountable. Sherril Huff is not responsible, as in caused, this error.

    Contractors and vendors have no responsibility…they’re just workers. They need proper oversight and that is the responsibility of the elections director. If vendor is the way we do it, nobody at KCE thought it was a problem.

  23. 26


    N in Seattle @ 19

    It’s my understanding that there is a prescribed order, set by RCW or WAC.

    Correct. It’s pretty complicated. This isn’t the full story, but a good start: RCW 29A.36.121 Order of offices and issues — Party indication. (I haven’t studied this area very much; it’s on the to do list.)

    Ballot design is a lot like highway design. There are so many constraints that the challenge is finding a design that satisfies all the rules. There’s very little room for judgment in designing individual ballots, which is appropriate.

    Additional constraints are added by the limitations of the vendor’s software. I’ll guess there were 50 different ballot designs in King County for this general election. (Because everyone votes on different issues.)

    If the I-1033 issue was placed optimally per ballot design, then that individual issue would need be retested for every single ballot design. It’d become a testing and quality assurance nightmare.

    Keeping testing feasible is why its best to have the same issue appear in the same place as much as possible.

  24. 27

    DavidD spews:

    Easy enough. Just make the far left column the spot for directions ONLY. Redesign the instructions so they are the ONLY thing in the first column.

    Start the ballots in the second column at the top.

  25. 28


    The Raven @ 8, others

    Thank you for posting.

    I think it’s more likely that public review would lead to more conflict without resolution.

    I distrust anyone who distrusts The People.

    When given high quality information, people make high quality decisions. The Wisdom of the Crowds is a popular book on this topic. Harnessing that collective intelligence is what makes Google’s search results so useful (for example).

    I’ll try to briefly relate a formative experience…

    I used democracy in the workplace. Most all issues were decided jointly. My job as the benevolent dictator was to enforce the rules and make sure the group’s decisions were enacted (honored).

    My team outperformed all the competing teams.

    I can’t tell you why or how it worked. It felt like magic. The cranks somehow abide by the group decision when they see the process is fair. The gatekeepers volunteer information when they see they’re more valued by playing ball. The distribution of work (effort) was more fare. Etc, etc.

    Mistakes will be made. It must be permitted to happen. Democratic organizations will learn from their mistakes if the feedback mechanisms are working (aka the scientific process).


    I just saw Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore’s central thesis is that democracy is the alternative to capitalism.

    Moore is spot on: Democracy is the correct answer.

    He gives a few budding examples of democracy in the workplace. I wish he had looked at Argentina. Of all places, Argentina is a pioneer in this social and management innovation. If I ever get the time, learning what’s happened in Argentina this last decade, who they’ve cooped with the financial collapse of their capitalism, is on my to do list. (I always think about Peter Drucker when I study management techniques. He believes it’s our duty to be effective and efficient.)

    Those who think The People are stupid, wrong, ignorant, etc (e.g. Susan Hutchison) are anti-human. People are smarter in groups. The bigger, the smarter. I became an optimist after reading Robert Wright’s book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

  26. 29

    slingshot spews:

    24, Roger Rabbit’s resoundingly right. Nancy Pelosi picked up two additional members for her already heavily Democratic majority. And both of these candidates campaigned, partly, as pro health care reform advocates. Creigh Deeds, the Dem candidate for Virginia governor (who ran a great campaign as a neocon) is more conservative than Scozzafava from NY 23. The message from voters was the Democrats have not behaved Democratic/Progressive enough.

  27. 30


    Jason… thanks for adding your expertise on these matters.

    I hadn’t realized that we were no longer using “marksense” per se. I also wasn’t entirely certain of the role of the vendor in laying out the ballot.

    Clearly, public review before finalizing the ballot likely would have avoided this problem.

  28. 31


    Chris @ 25

    Are you arguing that the election equipment vendors are disinterested actors in this kabuki play?

    Was Ford responsible for their cars blowing up? Is Nestle responsible for the child slave labor that harvests their cocoa? Etc.

    The plutocrats argue that corporations are people too, with all the rights and responsibilities. In that case, I insist they’re also punished like people.

  29. 32


    DavidD @ 27

    I’m not real clear on the value of having instructions on the ballots. Couldn’t it be separate?

    My hunch is that instruction should be separate. Having them on the ballot muddles the purpose of the ballot.

    The way to validate our separate proposals is usability testing. It’s effective and cheap.

  30. 34


    Jason @32:

    I’m not real clear on the value of having instructions on the ballots. Couldn’t it be separate?

    My hunch is that instruction should be separate. Having them on the ballot muddles the purpose of the ballot.

    I agree. As a separate insert, they’d be viewable if someone messed up either side of the ballot.

    I’m sure someone will counterargue that a voter might misplace instructions if they were on a separate page. You can’t please everyone.

  31. 35

    klatu spews:


    Jason – I can’t believe that you or anyone would actually be defending or shifting the blame off of Cheryl Huff. In the final analysis, the construction of the ballot is one of the most important things she has responsibility for overseeing, and she fucked that one up on a historic level.

    I want her to resign, and I want lawsuits.

  32. 36

    rhp6033 spews:

    It’s old news, but this past week I heard someone talking about the Florida butterfly ballots of 2000. Of course, Florida discarded the butterfly ballots after that election, but she was able to get hold of one of the old machines, and some sample ballots.

    One of her favorite after-dinner entertainments was to pull out the machine and challenge her guests to correctly vote for Al Gore. More than half the time, they got it wrong, with the vote ending up counting either for Buchanan or Bush. And these were reasonably intelligent people who realized that there was a problem with the ballots, knew the object of the game, and were trying hard to do it correctly.

    The problem wasn’t the “hanging chads”, or those types of complaints which made the news at the time. The problem was that the punch-ballots, when inserted into the machine, didn’t line up with the names correctly. The spacing between the names on the punch-card ballots was different from the spacing in the names in the instructions, which you were supposed to follow to get to the right line to punch.

    Anyway, it’s ancient history now – but the I-1033 ballot reminds us that we need to work hard during the off-season to make sure that it’s handled right during the elections.

  33. 37


    klatu @ 35

    Few people have been more critical of Sherril Huff and King County Elections than me. I call the plays as I see them. If I’m wrong, correct me. I said the problem was the instruction artwork, not the placement. Further, placement was outside of KCE’s control. Want to fix that? Then start with the equipment vendors, then rewrite the laws.

    I want lawsuits.

    Then sue. Were you disenfranchised? If so, then you have standing. I can easily imagine a constructive outcome.

    Maybe the courts could find the design of the ballots to be unfair under Article 14 (equal protection) and require the vendors to improve their gear, require election departments to do usability testing, require public preview of designs.

    At the very least, you should write up your criticisms and send them to Huff, your state and US representatives, and maybe the ACLU.

    Disenfranchisement is serious. No one should be silent in these matters.

  34. 38


    rhp @ 36

    The problem wasn’t the “hanging chads”… The problem was that the punch-ballots, when inserted into the machine, didn’t line up with the names correctly.

    Different jurisdiction, different problem.

    You may be referring to the substandard ballots used by Palm Beach County, which was covered in Dan Rather Reports.

    In another county (Broward? Miami-Dade? sorry, I don’t remember) the chads weren’t punched thru because the equipment hadn’t been cleaned in 10 years, so the “chad wells” were stuffed full.

    Punchcard ballots aren’t intrinsically bad. They’d been used successively for a long time. In these and other cases, they weren’t following standards and procedures. Doug Jones has a pretty good survey of the issues.

    None of this is simple. Which is a huge problem all by itself.

  35. 39


    rhp @ 36


    One of her favorite after-dinner entertainments was to pull out the machine and challenge her guests to correctly vote for Al Gore.

    That’s a great story.

  36. 40

    Chris spews:


    THe contractors, vendors, etc, low-levels, employees, etc. can have whatever motivations they wants. I don’t care what theirs are. However, I do care what the elections director’s results are.

    Recently (2 years ago), there was a nuclear missle problem at Minot Air Force Base. In that case, the base commander was relieved and eventually both the Secretary of the Air Force (civilian) and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (top military office, a 4 star Gen) were both dismissed. Did they have a hand in this…no they don’t carry missles. What they did have is the responsibility to properly train and oversee their staff and to ensure proper audits and systems were in place.

    In this case, mistakes will always be made by low level workers, be it worker-bees, contractors, or departments, or comapnies. What makes an efficitive leader is that higher levels of management give oversight and proper directives. When stuff happens you can always assume someone screwed up AND that management didn’t properly build in a system to catch that mistake or mitigate it.

  37. 41


    Chris @ 40

    Your example is troubling. But there’s a crucial difference.

    Everyone in the command chain knew they were breaking the rules. Whereas King County Elections was following the rules, to the best of their abilities.

    The vendors are like air force example in that they know their hardware and software sucks. Ballot design is core to their business. You think they’re ignorant of the issues? And yet their offerings still suck.

    I don’t like the rules. And maybe I would have made different choices. But KCE made defensible decisions given their resources and constraints.

    But it still isn’t good enough.

    As our representative, I will hold Huff accountable for finding a solution to this mess. But I don’t hold her responsible, as though she caused this mess or was negligent in anyway.

  38. 42


    It strikes me that the laws about ballot order are part of the problem, and probably need reform based on solid research.

    J. Osgood @28: I was more thinking that extremists and demagogues of all stripes would come out for public ballot reviews. I suspect a public review of ballots, like the initiative and referendum, might make the bad worse, while leading to little improvement in overall results.

    The whole “wisdom of crowds” argument is a libertarian justification of capitalism–didn’t you know? It looks like garbage now that the economy has tanked: if crowds are so smart, why are we in this mess? Don’t you dare argue that it was the fault of the people in charge: there were plenty of people who bought into the disaster.

    For analysis of actual voter behavior, see Philip E Converse, “The nature of belief systems in mass publics,” reprinted in Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society 18, no. 1 (2006): 1-74. Worldcat link–you can read it at UW if you can’t get it in other ways. It is sobering reading for anyone who believes in democracy.

  39. 43

    mark spews:

    Intelligent people didn’t miss it on the ballot. Problem around here is there aren’t enough intelligent people, only sheep.

  40. 44

    mark spews:

    Remember how much trouble democrats had punching out their chads. Fucking hilarious. God you tards are special.

  41. 46


    Raven @ 42

    Thanks for the link.

    The demagoguery and pedantry starts way before the design of the ballot. Nothing new there.

    We’re talking about catching mistakes. Some disciplines call this proofing.

    Converse’s thesis is about belief systems. I scanned it; not really my thing. I prefer prescriptive over descriptive.

    “Wisdom of the Crowds” is collaborative decision making, aka social cognition. Have a problem, throw more people at it, solve it quicker, get higher quality results. No beliefs required.

    When sharing my belief that people with good information make good decisions, a friend asked “What about electing Bush?” I said “Bush lost. Despite everything, Bush still lost the election. The problem is the will of the people was mooted”. (Sandra Day O’Conner just got a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her help with that $3 trillion mistake.)

    I’m not comfortable (yet) talking about the overlap between politics and group decision making. I have a core faith in the wisdom of humanity.

    But I also acknowledge that we’re up against powerful forces. Propaganda works. And our opponents can afford a lot of it.

    Powerful messaging also works. David Domke teaches us how to “speak americanese”, so that we do better communicating our principles and values. In my limited inexpert experience, it works pretty well.

    So I remain an optimist.

  42. 48


    J. Osgood @28: as a sometime UI designer, you probably have been astonished at how wrong even experienced designers can be in predicting user behavior. There is no substitute for user testing.

    & there is also no substitute for actual studies of voting behavior.

  43. 49


    Heh. Good guess.

    Not astonished. More like thoroughly embarrassed. Spend a huge amount of time making the best thing since sliced bread. And then watching in horror as users shred it to bits.

    But you have to start somewhere. It’s easier to criticize than to create. Your users will teach you, if you watch and listen.

    I’m still pretty ignorant about voting behavior. (Clearly.) Been focused on making sure the votes get counted correctly.

  44. 50


    Jason, if throwing more people at problems consistently produced better results, why did Bush unequivocally win a second term? Why do markets produce failures? Why has the initiative produced bad law? Why is there so much food for us corvids?

    Politics is group decision making. What else could it possibly be?

    In the USA most voters do not behave as if they are well-informed. Go back and take a closer look at Converse–he has the goods on this.

    Yet people, even the most apolitical, do not mostly wish the consequences of bad government. That many people do not understand or are not interested in politics is not a justification for mistreatment, any more than a patient’s limited understanding of medicine is a defense of malpractice.

    I will venture the speculation–the hope–that it is possible to work out a political system that will be truly responsive to the choices of the public. But it is not a matter of simply “throwing more people at problems.”


  45. 51


    Well. I’ll share two thoughts.


    At the risk of being called a kook, again, I’ll go on the record and state that I doubt Bush won in 2004.

    Voter Action proved, in a court of law, that the touchscreens used were flawed. The VVPAT printed the votes correctly. The votes were not recorded in memory correctly. Irrefutable.

    Voter Action chose New Mexico because they could get the evidence and NM’s electoral votes wouldn’t change the outcome of the 2004 presidential. Their goal was to establish precedence and work towards the future, not start up another firestorm.

    If others think the 2004 election was legit, fine. But there’s way too much evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for me to simply accept the results at face value.

    Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of noise, wild speculation, and conspiracy theory. All the better to confuse and distract. As computer voting expert Avi Rubin says, electronic voting is like catnip for conspiracy theorists.


    I was asked by a Russian immigrant why Americans were so ignorant, apathetic, etc. She related that in Russia, government controlled all media, so no one knew anything (other than the government was lying).

    I said that America uses the exact opposite strategy of overwhelming people with information.

    Marshall McLuhan talks about how people shut down and withdraw when they’re over stimulated. Neil Postman, particularly in Amusing Ourselves to Death, talks about it. These aren’t new ideas. Fahrenheit 451, the antithesis of 1984, was written in 1951, The Sheep Look Up in in 1972.

    It doesn’t even need to be misinformation. We knew everything we needed to about Bush and his people. But they managed to keep the outrages flowing. And they fed the fear. So outrage fatigue kicked in, resulting in apathy (for a while).

    Fortunately, fear burns quick and bright, its effectiveness wears off. Given the opportunity, reason kicks in. And people are genuinely feeling the pain. So they’re more motivated now than ever before to act.

    Look at how the health care debate fared over the summer (August) break. When the swift boating started, I argued that the longer the debate, the greater the chance for “success”. I was right. The trogs beat their fear drums, got their initial reaction. As people settled down, reason reasserted itself, popular support returned to normal.

    The original friend challenged me with the example of Bush’s Folly in Iraq. As everyone knows, every freaked after 9/11, Bush got a blank check, he rushed to war. What’s less acknowledged is that they had to invade when they did, before they were militarily ready, because public support was declining fast. Despite the propaganda, truth and reason were winning. If they had waiting another month, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

    Despite the last 8 years (or 30, depending on how you’re counting), I’m pretty gosh darned optimistic. People have wider access to better quality data than any time before. It’s getting more and better with each passing day. And I believe the decisions are progressively, if slowly, getting better.

    The activities we’ve seen these last few years, and the impact they’ve had, simply were not possible before.

    It’s a pretty exciting time to be alive. It’s too bad that we’re in a race for survival. If the Internet had been invented 10 years earlier or the catastrophic climate change delayed 10 years, we would have done okay. Now, it’s a sticky wicket.

  46. 52

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    At the risk of being called a kook, again, I’ll go on the record and state that I doubt Bush won in 2004.

    Then allow me. Kook.

    If others think the 2004 election was legit, fine. But there’s way too much evidence, both direct and circumstantial, for me to simply accept the results at face value.

    Of course, Mr Osgood will not be presenting it here tonight nor link to this source of vast “information”.

    Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of noise, wild speculation, and conspiracy theory.

    I know. Some batshit crazy kook above just asserted that Bush didn’t win in the 2004 election.

    I said that America uses the exact opposite strategy of overwhelming people with information. Marshall McLuhan talks about how people shut down and withdraw when they’re over stimulated.

    Of course, this didn’t happen in the election of 2008. The watchdog press became the lap dogs of the DNC and didn’t vett the identity party’s candidate. Afterall, he spoke well and smiled nice and dadgumit, he was a likeable chap…who cares if he’s qualified?

    …and in cased you missed it, Mr. Osgood, you’re still a kook

  47. 53


    Okay. I have more to say.

    I’m still very green. Politics and activism are still largely mysterious to me.

    Democracy is more than voting. Voting is huge important. But there are other forms of participation.

    I get why people don’t vote, remain apolitical, etc. I was one of them. I was buried in debt. I had responsibilities. I didn’t even know how to participate.

    But I got pissed off enough that I pushed through the learning curve.

    I don’t have all the answers, or even very many. But I do know that greater access to information (FOIA) is crucial. Teaching civics, public policy and student government would all be positive steps.

    We don’t have to wait for those things. People are active today. I try to notice when people are doing cool things and then copy them.

    We also don’t need to know everything. Everyone can pick one topic, any topic, and push. Enough people do that, and we’ll have all the bases covered.

    And, no, simply throwing more people at a problem doesn’t work. Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man Month, a bible for us geeks, details that mistake. (Yet it keeps happening.)

    It’s all about structures and processes. Do those right, and the outcomes will take care of themselves. This is deep philosophy from the quality improvement world. Stuff like The Toyota Way. If you don’t have a model to emulate, it takes a leap of faith (and willingness to fail). I fortunately had some great advice from Luke Hohmann, who wrote about group cognition in The Journey of the Software Professional.

    My team (re)discovered tricks. For bug triage, we used a voting system swiped from risk management. For acceptance testing, we had roman evaluation (thumbs up or down). For estimation, we had everyone make a guess and then take the average. For exploration and designing new features, we had mini teams compete. For post mortems, we used anonymous feedback.

    Economists (real ones, not the trogs) have great faith that well designed markets will be efficient. I have a similar faith that given a problem domain, there’s an applicable strategy (algorithm, structures, processes).

    These strategies aren’t all that different from Robert’s Rules of Order. Just more simple and custom tailored for the problem at hand.

    Lastly, I will read Converse more deeply.

  48. 54

    Johnston spews:

    While I agree with Goldy that it is very bad that bad ballot position caused so many to not vote either way on I 1033 and that we should improve ballot design in the future, I have to say…HOLY CRAP people! It’s a BALLOT! It’s not an SAT test! You make your decision…you fill in the ovals…you have lots of time…look!…down here in the corner!…OVALS FOR YOU TO FILL IN! Did you read this whole thing? Just playing devil’s advocate here, but maybe the people too stupid to find it on their ballot were also stupid enough to vote for it…just sayin’

  49. 55


    Emtpy Suit @ 52

    Damning words. From the guy who would disenfranchise my siblings while they served in the military. I’m crushed.

    You’ve heard of google, right? Search terms, “voter action new mexico”.

    You want to me pre-chew your food for you too?

  50. 56

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    You’ve heard of google, right? Search terms, “voter action new mexico”.

    Actually I don’t use “google” as they don’t recognize the sacrifices of veterans on their site on ‘memorial day’, but manage to honor most every other fairly insignificant milestone in international history. (But I will look into your batshit crazy assertions through alternate sources.)

    No need to pre-chew any food. you’ve eaten enough crow for one night.

  51. 57


    they don’t recognize the sacrifices of veterans on their site on ‘memorial day’

    You’re kidding, right?

    You’d deny military personnel absentee ballots, thereby disenfranchising them. And yet you’re taking a principled stand in response to a corporate logo over some imagined offense against the military?


  52. 58

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    You’d deny military personnel absentee ballots, thereby disenfranchising them. And yet you’re taking a principled stand in response to a corporate logo over some imagined offense against the military?

    Actually, the last I checked it was the Democrat party that didnt’ want military absentee ballots to count as they vote fairly overwhelmingly Republican vs. Democrat (afterall, they only get pay raises under Republicans). It’d help your case a lot more if you had citations and links to your ‘information’. I really don’t have the time in my day to surf every batshit crazy conspiracy site on the net.

    As for Google. As a vet I take their stand on not recognizing the very people that sacrificed their lives for these assholes freedoms personally. You may not understand as a civilian, but I take it extremely personally when some arrogant fuck celebrates the advent of sesame streets big bird debut, and ignores Memorial day. But that’s just me.

  53. 59


    Jason, I think you’re talking a lot of sense. Keep it up! & if you show up at Drinking Liberally sometime, I’ll buy you a drink.

    One specific point: my impression is that, while there were some very dubious things done in the 2004 election, the majority of them were good old-fashioned keep-in-the-vote tactics, rather than high-tech finagling of the count. The biggest electoral problem we have is not poorly-designed ballots, but registration procedures designed to keep citizens from voting.

    While I, too, have some hope for the future, I think it’s a hard road. “Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

  54. 60


    Empty Suit @ 58

    Do you remember writing this?

    If you’re too dumb, stupid or lazy to vote in person, you’re vote probably isn’t worth much anyway.

    You argued against absentee voting. Disenfranchising people serving in the military. As well as the disabled, many of whom are veterans.

    Tell me again about honoring our soldiers. I like it when you tell us stories.

  55. 61


    Jason: oh, yes: you seem to reinventing ideas of workplace democracy and what, 100 years ago, would have been called anarchism, but what in the USA we might call radical democracy. If you’re interested, you might want to look up some of the history–there’s a lot that might still be useful.

  56. 62

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    @ 60 ~ that’s an absolute ignorant representation of my position. How can you be so ignorant?

    That post was interpreted by most with an active cerebral cortex to assume that the person was within the proximity of their voting district and not intended for those serving abroad.

    I’ve voted from HI, to Okinawa, JPN to Saudi Arabia…so don’t tell me about my vote not counting. If anyone is trying to suppress military voting, it has been the Democrat party because 75% of the military votes for those who support their cause (welfare, pay increases, mission , etc).It sure as hell isn’t the Democrat party who loathe them and their mission.

    You’re one confused soul, Jason. Maybe you should know what the hell you’re talking about before spouting your uneducated opinon. Get a clue.

  57. 63


    Raven @ 59

    Thanks. A beer sound great.

    my impression is that, while there were some very dubious things done in the 2004 election, the majority of them were good old-fashioned keep-in-the-vote tactics, rather than high-tech finagling of the count.

    It was death by a thousand cuts. There wasn’t any one thing. Voter roll purges, not counting provisionals, machine failures, etc. There were thousands of anomalies. Was it enough to tip the scale?

    Ohio is the toughest to discuss, of course.

    I believe, but cannot prove, the decisive difference in Ohio happened in Cleveland. They simply didn’t provide enough touchscreen machines for people to vote with. People were standing in line to vote for HOURS. Many people simply gave up.

    Meanwhile, at the same time, the Republican (and predominantly white) precincts had more touchscreens than they needed.

    If you really want to get pissed off, all over again, watch the movie American Blackout. The footage of voters lined up for blocks, in the rain, waiting to vote, is a crime against humanity.

    This specific incident of electioneering had nothing to do with unreliability or hacking. Just straightforward disenfranchisement. Enabled simply by having the touchscreens. A sad irony. The touchscreens were funded by HAVA, the Help America Vote Act, who’s stated purpose was to prevent disenfranchisement.

    (Voting on a touchscreen takes longer than voting with a paper ballot. I timed people voting both ways. I’m probably one of the few that have.)

  58. 64

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    @ 60 Jason Osgood lied:

    You argued against absentee voting. Disenfranchising people serving in the military. As well as the disabled, many of whom are veterans.

    …and your proof of that is where?

    You really are a green one aren’t you, Jason. Lying like a good democrat and can’t provide the proof to back up your assertion. Where did I say I was against absentee ballots for those that were truly “absent” and not sitting on their asses 2 miles away from a voting booth?

    Where Jason? Surely you can back up your bluster with proof.

  59. 65


    Empty Suite @ 62

    I’m sorry if I misunderstood you, thanks for correcting me.

    So… You’re saying that it’s okay to disenfranchise some people, but not others, and only you get to decide who.

  60. 66

    Empty Suit Obama spews:

    @ 65 ~ Just as suspected. Can’t back up your bullshit. Thanks for eating the crow , Jason.

  61. 67


    Jason@63: unh-hunh. That’s the latest version of limiting access to the ballot box, not fiddling with the machines themselves. I think if the Republicans had a fix in, and access to the electronic ballots, they would not have played that game.

    BTW, Ohio agribusiness has just taken over the state’s agricultural regulatory system, lock, stock, and barrel with another bad initiative. “That cow? It’s not mad. It’s just mildly annoyed.”

  62. 68


    It was terrible. I had finished voting when I remembered that I didn’t remember voting on 1033. I was a strong ‘no’, so I went back and looked for it, eventually finding it, but if I hadn’t remembered before I mailed it I would have missed it.