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How a simple error in design can change history

March 9, 2010

Some people argue that design doesn’t matter.

Some people say that design = decoration.

They are wrong.

Well executed design is in fact very important, a lot more important than one might realise at first. Let’s take a look at an example.

In November of 2000 Al Gore and George Bush were battling it out to become the next President of the United States of America. As we all know now it was George W. Bush who won the election in the end. Who knows what the world would be like had we not had the… pleasure… of the 8 years of his Presidency that followed. George Bush ended up putting the final nail in Gore’s coffin by winning the swing state of Florida by a ludicrously small amount of votes.

There was much controversy around the circumstances under which Bush won this state. Claims of misinformation, racism and inappropriate involvement of George Bush’s brother Jeb (Florida Governer) were all thrown about in the following weeks and months.

One issue which didn’t get as much coverage, but which was equally at fault for an inaccurate result,  was the design of the actual ballot forms that were put in front of every voter in Palm Beach County. The voting form was designed in a “butterfly” format with candidates listed on either side of a central column with punch holes. The original ballot form is below.

The consequences were that many people punched the second hole on the list assuming that this was for Al Gore, and having realised their error punched the third hole too… invalidating their vote. Reporting on the findings of a Florida newspaper investigation, CNN stated : “The newspaper’s review of the overvotes found 5,330 Palm Beach County residents invalidated their ballots by punching chads for Gore and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. The hole voters punched for Buchanan was located just above Gore’s on the two-page ballot.

Even Buchanan admitted:

“When I took one look at that ballot on Election Night … it’s very easy for me to see how someone could have voted for me in the belief they voted for Al Gore”

Below is a reworked version of the Ballot, it is obvious that such a design would have reduced the number of spoilt votes.

So on the election day in 2000 the race was decided by 5,330 people who could not understand or use the design put in front of them. George Bush won the state of Florida by a grand total of… *drum roll*… 537 votes…

Design matters.

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