Government Watchdog Decries Tiny Text on Ballots in Brooklyn and Manhattan

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

September 12, 2012


Government Watchdog Decries Tiny Text on Ballots in Brooklyn and Manhattan

Voters will need magnifying glasses at the polls to read 7 point font

Groups call on Legislature to pass Voter Friendly Ballot Act

A day before the September 13th primary, Common Cause NY, League of Women Voters of New York City, AARP New York and other groups are alerting voters to the tiny type being used on ballots in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Candidate names will appear in 7 point font. As a point of comparison, text used in newspapers and professional documents is usually between 10 and 12 points. Common Cause NY is calling for the Legislature to pass the Voter Friendly Ballot Act (A7492D-2011) to correct the problem in the future.

According to the Board of Elections, the miniscule type results from crowded slates of judicial convention delegates running in some districts. However, due to the Election Law as interpreted by the Board’s Counsel, all candidates on the ballot must appear on one page, forcing the text to be crammed into 7 point font. This year the Legislature failed to pass election reform bills, like the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which would’ve updated the antiquated laws governing ballot design, allowing for increased text size and legibility by reducing clutter near candidates’ names.

“Manhattan and Brooklyn voters will need to bring their magnifying glasses to the ballot box, because seniors and anyone with eye glasses, as well as anyone with less than perfect vision won’t be able to read their ballot without one this Election Day. While the Board and the Legislature play “pass the hot potato”, voters in New York City are presented with a ballot that is virtually unreadable by those with normal eyesight, much less any vision issues. This is simply unconscionable. The situation not only will frustrate and anger voters, but undercuts the most basic principles of our democracy. We need a wholesale revision of our Election Law to bring our elections out of the 19th and into the 21st century. In the meantime, it’s past time for officials to step up and agree on smart legislation to correct the problem so that voters can not only understand the ballot, but actually read it,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.

“AARP strongly believes that voting procedures and systems should encourage and promote maximum participation in the electoral process, and should include a ballot that is clear, straightforward and simple to read,” stated David McNally, AARP New York Manager of Advocacy. “New York needs to pass the Voter Friendly Ballot Act because it will help us ensure that our state’s new paper ballots are easier for New Yorkers to read and will allow them to fully participate in the electoral process.”

“If you can’t read a ballot, you can’t cast a fair and free vote. Tiny type poses a real problem for seniors and those who are visually impaired. That’s why our New York State Legislature, which sets font size by law, should address this problem. I have raised this in the past at a City Council hearing and hope that it will be taken up in the next legislative session,” said New York City Council Member Jessica Lappin, Chair of the Aging Committee.

“People with disabilities continually fight to vote privately and independently like everyone else. With a ballot in tiny-type, many will have to use the Ballot Marking Device (BMD) just to see who they’re voting for. The state could buy more BMDs for the poll sites, and they could also come up with a solution that allows people to actually see the contests on the paper ballot.” Susan M. Dooha, Executive Director, CIDNY.

“I am a strong supporter of making ballots more readable and user-friendly, as would be required under Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh’s Voter Friendly Ballot Act. Unfortunately, although we passed a Resolution, Res 671, in support of this legislation in the City Council, in the last State Legislative Session the bill was passed by the Assembly but not taken up in the Senate. To avoid these disastrous ballots in the future, I urge my colleagues in State government to pass this important legislation, and give New Yorkers a ballot they can read and easily understand,” said Council Member Gale A. Brewer, Chair, Committee on Governmental Operations

“The problem is simple, it is difficult to vote if you cannot read the ballot! Text that is too small to read discourages voters from returning to the polls. It is imperative that something be done to correct this problem New York City voters face every election. Legislation that ensures ballots are printed at a readable font size must be enacted as quickly as possible. If not, the rate of voter turnout will continue to fall,” said Mary Lou Urban, Vice- President of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

“You shouldn’t have to squint to vote. You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass. You shouldn’t need to have perfect vision. Voting is a right and it’s time for the State Legislators in Albany to pass simple reforms to make our ballots more legible,” said Neal Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group.