Ballot Redesign Focus Groups Final Report
Feedback on Current Ballot
Before being shown the ballots with the new design characteristics, participants were shown an example of the ballot currently used for voting in federal elections.
Widespread familiarity with current federal ballot
Most participants, including a majority in each focus group, indicated that they were familiar with the ballot.
Features of current ballot noticed by participants
The following specific features of the current ballot elicited comments from participants:
- Candidates' names and names of political parties: Comments on these features included the following:
- Candidates' names and political parties are in different font sizes.
- Candidates are identified first by their surname.
- Candidates' surnames are in upper case format.
- The font size is too small. Comments about the font size being too small were most likely to be made by participants with a visual disability.
- Black text on white background: Some participants said that the contrast between the black text and white background is not stark enough. These tended to be participants with a visual disability.
- Black dots: The inclusion of black dots routinely elicited critical feedback and questions. Critical feedback tended to focus on the perception that the dots are distracting and interfere with the capacity to read the text while questions focused on the purpose or reason for including them. Some observed that the number of dots surrounding the names of candidates and political parties varies, with a few suggesting that names surrounded by more dots tend to be emphasized more than those with fewer dots.footnote 5 Comments about the dots being distracting were most likely to be made by participants with a visual disability.
- White circle in which to register one's choice: Comments about the latter focused on the size of the circle, with some describing it as large and others suggesting that it is not large enough. Impressions that it is not large enough were made by persons with a physical disability, visual disability, and cognitive disability.
While no one commented on the actual size of the existing ballot when asked what they notice about the ballot, it was observed that the font size and the white circles should be larger (see suggestions below).
Suggestions for improving current ballot
Participants offered a variety of suggestions for improving the current ballot used for voting in federal elections. The following were routinely mentioned by participants:
- Remove the black dots (suggested especially by persons with a visual disability).
- Increase the font size (suggested especially by persons with a visual disability).
- Use bold font.
- Improve the contrast between the black text and white background (suggested especially by persons with a visual disability).
- Add party logos.
In addition, the following suggestions were offered, but with less frequency than the previous suggestions:
- Increase the font size of the names of the political parties so that they are uniform with the candidates' names.footnote 6
- Add pictures of candidates.
- Add political party colours.
- Include text in braille.
- Identify candidates by first name followed by surname.
- Use uniform text for candidates' names (i.e., both names in all capital letters or both in title case only).
- Use heavier paper.
- Make the ballot larger in size.
- Provide an option to mark the ballot on left side.
There also were a few suggestions for improving the voting experience, but they were not related directly to the ballot.footnote 7
Preferences for Characteristics of Ballots
This section reports on findings related to preferences in terms of ballot design characteristics identified by participants. This includes perceptions regarding ballot size, preferences in terms of the use of dots or dashes, preferences in terms of shading/contrast, and preferences regarding the use of capital letters in candidate surnames.
With one exception, members of the general population were less likely than members of other groups to express strong preferences regarding the characteristics of ballots presented to them. The exception (i.e., the characteristic on which they did express a strong preference) concerned the use of dots versus dashes, where dashes were strongly preferred.
Note that detailed information about the feedback received on each of the ballot designs used for focus groups and interviews can be found in Annex 4.
1. Size of Ballot
Virtually everyone felt the larger ballot constitutes an improvement
There was near-unanimity that the size of the proposed ballot will make the ballot easier to use. The most frequently given reason was that the larger font size makes it easier to read the ballot, something particularly emphasized by persons with a visual disability. It was also often suggested that the larger ballot will be easier to manipulate, hold in place, and fold. This was something that tended to be emphasized by persons with a physical disability. Participants who did not think that the larger ballot would be easier to use tended to be members of the general public who saw no real need for a larger ballot. All participants, regardless of their opinion, said that they would be able to fill out and submit the ballot on their own.
2. Dots and Dashes
Near unanimous preference for dashes over dots
Asked whether dots or dashes are better in terms of making the ballot easy to understand, almost everyone expressed a preference for dashes. This is not surprising given that participants routinely commented critically on the use of dots during their review of both the current ballot used at the federal level and Set 1 of the ballots tested. The inclusion of dots was described as 'distracting' or 'disorienting', resulting in difficulty focussing on names of candidates and political parties. This point was most likely to be made or emphasized by persons with a visual disability and persons with a cognitive disability.
In explaining their preference for dashes over dots, participants tended to focus on the same theme–dashes draw attention to the text (i.e., to the candidates' names and party affiliations) whereas dots draw attention to themselves. In short, the use of dashes was seen as making it easier to focus on the text. Related to this, it was often suggested that the use of dashes seems to highlight the text by giving the ballot a 'lighter', more aerated or 'airy' look. By contrast, the use of dots tends to give the ballot a 'heavy', 'more compressed' or 'busy' appearance that 'crowds' the text. Finally, some participants said they prefer dashes to dots because dashes seem more 'professional' and therefore more appropriate on a ballot than dots.
The few participants who preferred dots to dashes explained that dots make it easier for them to focus on the text. One participant expressed indifference, observing that shading is the more important consideration, and that as long as a lighter shading is used, the inclusion of dots or dashes does not matter.
3. Shading and Contrast
Divided views re: shading and contrast preferences
When it came to preferences regarding shading and contrast, participants made it clear that the overriding factor is a combination that makes it easy to focus on the text. So, while participants tended to have general preferences in terms of shading, it was the combination of elements that mattered.
Generally-speaking, the main difference in terms of preferences was between those who preferred the 'traditional' black masking and those who preferred a lighter grey masking. Those who preferred black masking explained their preference by saying that the contrast in colours makes it easier to focus on the text. Many also suggested that the use of black is more 'professional' or 'official' looking, sometimes noting that shades of grey make the ballot look washed out or give the appearance that it is a 'photocopy' or a draft version of a ballot. Participants who preferred grey masking tended to explain that it is easier on their eyes and that it makes it easier to focus on the names of the candidates and political parties. That said, there was no agreement on the shade of grey. Most participants preferred 50 percent masking, while others expressed a preference for 30 percent masking.
General preferences for the shading of the masking notwithstanding, three other things are noteworthy. One is that many participants emphasized the importance of a crisp contrast between the black text of the candidates' names and political affiliations and the white background on which this text is set. It was often suggested that the white background looks 'cloudy' or 'murky' and should be purer in order for the black text to stand out clearly. The second is that, regardless of whether the ballot incorporates dots or dashes, it was often noted that the shading of these elements should not impede the reading of the text (i.e., it should be easy to focus on and read the names of candidates and political parties). The third is that the combinations of design characteristics most likely to be preferred were those in which the shading of the masking matches the shading of the dots or dashes.
There were some participants who expressed a preference for combinations in which the shading of the masking and the shading of the dots or dashes do not match. This includes the following:
- Among some participants with a visual disability, a preference was expressed for 100 percent masking with 30 percent dashes or 50 percent masking with 100 percent dashes.
- One participant with a cognitive disability suggested 30 percent masking with 100 percent dashes.
- Among some participants with a physical disability, a preference was expressed for 50 percent masking with 30 percent dashes.
These combinations were thought to make the names of the candidates and the parties clear and distinct, and therefore easier to read.
4. Candidate Surname in all Capital Letters
Widespread preference for uppercase lettering in candidate surnames
When it came to the formatting of surnames that traditionally contain more than one capital letter (e.g., MacDonald), most participants expressed a preference for the uniform upper case version. For the fictional candidate surname 'MacAlhaney' presented in the ballots tested, participants favoured 'MACALHANEY' rather than 'MacALHANEY' because they preferred consistency in the size of script. Those who preferred the lower case lettering, 'MacALHANEY', explained that it reflects the correct spelling of the name.
Other Changes to be Considered for Improving the Ballot
Participants were given an opportunity to identify any other changes Elections Canada could make to the design of the ballot to make it easier to complete. In some instances, participants re-iterated suggestions made earlier to improve the current ballot. To avoid repetition, the focus here is on suggestions not previously offered by participants when commenting on the current ballot. The following suggestions were made with some frequency.
- Make the voting circle section stand out clearly on the ballot–for example, include a different-coloured border/frame to make it stand out or use a pure white for the circle against a pure black background.
- Use uniform upper case lettering for candidates' first name and surname.
- Include fewer dashes or dots if possible.
In addition, other suggestions were offered with less frequency and include:
- Do not have party names that are similar to each other next to each other – for example, 'conservative' and 'communist'.
- Include pre-formed folds in the ballot to make it easier to fold.
- Move the white circle closer to the names of the candidates.
- Include a continuous line instead of dashes around participants' names and the names of political parties.
Footnote 5 The implication was that these candidates might be more visible on the ballot than other candidates.
Footnote 6 Participants observed that the font size of the party affiliations is smaller than the font size of the candidates' names.
Footnote 7 These include placing pictures of candidates in the voting booth, securing the ballot to a clip board in order to hold it in place, and instituting electronic voting (like at the municipal level in Canada) or online voting.