Social Science Tackles the Palm Beach Ballot

Many readers have urged Chatterbox to weigh in on the dispute over the Palm Beach “butterfly” ballot. Chatterbox has two conflicting opinions: 1) When you really look at it, the ballot isn’t terribly confusing; and 2) nevertheless, it seems to have confused many voters in Palm Beach County. For persuasive evidence on this last point, with more charts and spreadsheets and links to research notes than any sensible person could want, check out this Web page by Greg D. Adams, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon.

Interestingly, Don Walker of the Shreveport Times reports that the Palm Beach butterfly ballot failed to stump a single member of fourth-grade teacher Lisa Burns’ class at Stockwell Elementary School in Bossier City, La., yesterday when she tested it on them. When Stacey Robinson’s first-grade class just down the hall tried it, all but five of the 24 students got it right (and one of these five appears to have been a stubborn Bush supporter). “If a first-grader can choose the correct bubble, there’s no legitimate claim,” Robinson concluded. “Anyone could have done it.” But this doesn’t necessarily follow. It’s possible–even probable–that children are much more adept at eye-hand coordination than the typical voter in Palm Beach County. Perhaps Chatterbox should reconsider his opposition to lowering the voting age. A crueler alternative, which follows logically but which Chatterbox can’t condone, is to disenfranchise the elderly.