12. IRV ballot design

Existing state law gives the Secretary of State authority to approve designs of ballots within guidelines. It is possible and desirable to redesign the ballot to allow voters to mark their ballots in exactly the same manner as they have in the past. The option of ranking alternate choices should probably be treated as an add-on section of the ballot. Unlike Australian federal elections, Vermont should use optional preference voting as is done in New South Wales and other jurisdictions within Australia. This way, those voters loathe to change, could still mark their ballots as they are used to -- with the same amount of input into the outcome of the Governor’s election as they ever had in the past. Such voters would be forgoing the new power, unavailable under current law, to help select the winner in case there is no majority winner. Thus the traditionalist who refrains from ranking alternatives does not have a diminution of power, but simply is voluntarily not seizing an additional input opportunity.

A preference ballot can be designed with the goal of making it simple for the voter to understand and mark, or with the goal of making it easy for poll workers in those towns that do hand counts. For example, a ballot design that simply has the voter put a rank number next to each candidate is simple for the voter but may slow down the count since all candidates may have some mark next to their name, the counter will need just that much more attention to pick out the "1."

An alternate design that has a separate column of boxes or circles for indicating alternate choice numbers is quick and easy to count, since the first-choice stands out more. Another reason for having a separate column for alternate choices, is to help distinguish those races using IRV, in which voters are allowed to indicate alternate choices from those races voters are still limited to a first choice only. A design of this sort may also be necessary for machine-read ballots, so that indications of alternate choices are physically separated from that portion of the ballot where the machine scans for a first-choice mark. Of course, machine ballots are already different than hand-count ballots in Vermont. Finding the optimal point of balance between ease for the voters and ease for the counters will be a judgement call. While Cambridge, Massachusetts, uses a machine read preference ballot, most countries use a hand count ballot exclusively.