Non-profit

Center for Civic Design

Website:

civicdesign.org/

Location:

CAMBRIDGE, MD

Tax ID:

46-3535619

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $733,295
Expenses: $681,888
Assets: $271,494

Formation:

2013

Type:

Voting Rights/Education

Founder:

Whitney Quesenbery

The Center for Civic Design (CCD) is an election-administration policy organization that frequently partners with left-of-center organizations like Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund. [1] It cites examples of poorly structured ballots and low voter turnout as responsible for key Democratic losses including former Democratic Vice President Al Gore[2] to then Republican then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. [3]

Center for Civic Design claims that ballot measures are written deliberately to confuse voters. It believes that people have a “civil right” to clear, basic language. [4] The center focuses efforts on the nearly 30 million voters that are not fully fluent in English. It seeks to shape the voting experience and voting materials to ease voter comprehension and increase their voter participation. [5]

The Center for Civic Design has worked with the Los Angeles County elections division; the City of Beverly Hills sued the County over the design of its touch-screen ballots in the 2020 elections. [6]

Background

The Center for Civic Design works with many state election agencies to revamp the voting process, which includes hours and days of operation, training of volunteers, and accommodating people with disabilities or literacy issues. It also aids with the simplification of the language used for ballot measures. It views the traditional voting processes and structure of ballots as confusing and contributing to low voter turnout, particularly among voters new to the United States.

Ballot Language

Center for Civic Design cites a study that purports that 43% of adults read at basic or below-average levels. It claims that those voters are unable to understand ballot instructions and wording. The Center for Civic Design recommends to state and federal election officials specific advice on language use,[7] including using simple words, short sentences, active rather than passive voice, a positive message, and short paragraphs. It claims words like polls, rebuttal, early voting, sample ballot, and primary are too complicated for a large percentage of voters. [8] CCD further encourages ballot language authors to explain to voters the outcome of laws to aid decision making. [9]

Advance Communication

The Center for Civic Design believes that the traditional voting system does not adequately advise people of the issues on which they are voting. It claims that voters do not read the ballot choices until they get into the voting booth and then are too rushed to grasp the issues and vote appropriately. [10] CCD created a web template to aid election agencies build websites to better inform voters. [11]

Anywhere Voting

The Center for Civic Design recommends all voters vote by mail to increase voting participation. Its initial step is implementing voting by mail. CCD has provided guidance for the implementation of vote by mail for the entire state of California. [12] The center also recommends that voting by mail be free of postage as it reduces election costs. [13]

It is offering webinars on vote-by-mail implementation through a partnership with the National Vote At Home Institute and the Center for Tech and Civic Life. CCD has advocated expanding voting through the mail and virtual poll worker recruiting as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. [14] The CEO of National Vote At Home is Amber McReynolds who is a supporter of “ballot harvesting,”[15] a controversial practice that critics believe enables voter fraud. [16]

The Center received support from funding from the left-of-center John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation[17] to create an “anywhere ballot” system that allowed people to vote from any device, including their own. [18]

 Voter Registration Processes

The Center for Civic Design’s offering includes consulting on the voter registration process. It partnered with the left-of-center League of Women Voters[19] to help the state of California create a simple voter registration process and voter identification card. [20]

CCD recommends changing the manual registration processes to an automatic version. It cites countries like Germany, Chile, and Sweden that systematically register voters when they are of age. [21]

Accessibility

The CCD claims that accessibility issues hinder the participation of voters in groups with vision, hearing or physical impairments. Its studies suggest nearly 70 million voters face challenges using traditional voting mechanisms. [22]

Political Impact

The Center for Civic Design claims flawed ballot designs “might have swayed” critical elections in favor of Republicans. [23] In addition to the election of President George W. Bush, it is alleged that then-Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) defeated then-U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) because of a confusing ballot layout in Democratic-controlled Broward County. [24]

Leadership

Whitney Quesenbery co-founded the Center for Civic Design. She co-authored two reports for the left-of-center Brennan Center. [25] The reports claimed that low-income voters often selected the wrong candidate and ballot measure due to confusing design issues. These poor layouts are blamed for sometimes determining critical elections. [26]

Dana Chisnell is the other co-founder, and served in President Barack Obama’s administration. [27]

Partners

The Center for Civic Design frequently partners with left-of-center groups.

The Brennan Center joined with CCD to create a ballot guide. [28]

The Democracy Fund and the Knight Foundation  created an aid titled “Building a Civic Participation Toolkit for Election Officers.” [29]  The Democracy Fund funds the Center for Civic Design[30]  and has ties to two different groups described as liberal “dark money” organizations: The Sixteen Thirty Fund[31] and the Tides Foundation. [32]

CCD joined with the League of Women Voters in numerous ventures including a webcast: “Best Practices for Official Voter Guides, How to Use Voter Guides to Close the Civic Literacy Gap.” [note]“Webinar Civic Literacy.” Webinar Civic Literacy. Accessed March 31, 2020. https://cavotes.org/sites/default/files/jobs/Webinar3-Civic Literacy-2015-0423.pdf.[/note]

The left-of-center James Irvine Foundation[33] is an immigrant advocacy organization that funded a CCD  and League of Women Voters project, the Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides. [34] It was intended to increase the turnout of young and minority voters. [35]

References

  1. “Building a Civic Engagement Toolkit for Election Officials.” Building a Civic Engagement Toolkit for Election Officials. The Center for Civic Design, 2016. https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Election Toolkit.pdf.

    ^

  2. “Democracy Is a Design Problem.” JUS. Accessed March 31, 2020. http://uxpajournal.org/democracy-design-problem/.

    ^

  3. Chisnell, Dana. “Bad Ballot Design Changed Florida’s 2018 Election. Why Does This Keep Happening?” Tampa Bay Times, March 4, 2019. https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/2019/03/04/bad-ballot-design-changed-floridas-2018-election-why-does-this-keep-happening/.

    ^

  4. Quesenbery, Whitney. “Why Are Ballot Measures So Confusing?” The New York Times. The New York Times, November 3, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/11/03/why-are-ballot-measures-so-confusing/ballot-measures-need-to-be-written-in-plain-language.

    ^

  5. “Democracy Is a Design Problem.” JUS. Accessed March 31, 2020. http://uxpajournal.org/democracy-design-problem/.

    ^

  6. “Beverly Hills Files Lawsuit Seeking Changes in L.A. County Touch-Screen Ballot Design.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-01-25/la-me-beverly-hills-touchscreen-ballot-design-lawsuit.

    ^

  7. “Democracy Is a Design Problem.” JUS. Accessed March 31, 2020. http://uxpajournal.org/democracy-design-problem/.

    ^

  8. Center for Civic Design Follow. “Communication That Works — in Plain Language.” LinkedIn SlideShare, July 19, 2018. https://www.slideshare.net/CivicDesign/communication-that-works-in-plain-language.

    ^

  9. Quesenbery, Whitney. “Why Are Ballot Measures So Confusing?” The New York Times. The New York Times, November 3, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/11/03/why-are-ballot-measures-so-confusing/ballot-measures-need-to-be-written-in-plain-language.

    ^

  10. Quesenbery, Whitney. “Why Are Ballot Measures So Confusing?” The New York Times. The New York Times, November 3, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/11/03/why-are-ballot-measures-so-confusing/ballot-measures-need-to-be-written-in-plain-language.

    ^

  11. Develepor. “Building an Election Website.” Center for Tech and Civic Life. Accessed March 31, 2020. https://www.techandciviclife.org/course/building-an-election-website/.

    ^

  12. “Vote by Mail.” Vote by Mail. Cambridge, MA: Center for Civic Design, 2017. https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/vote-by-mail/pdf/guidance.pdf.

    ^

  13. Armitage, Susie. “Mail-In Ballot Postage Becomes a Surprising (and Unnecessary) Cause of Voter Anxiety.” ProPublica, March 9, 2019. https://www.propublica.org/article/mail-in-ballot-postage-becomes-a-surprising-and-unnecessary-cause-of-voter-anxiety.

    ^

  14. CTCLAdmin. “Watch Now: Free Vote at Home Webinars for Election Officials.” Center for Tech and Civic Life, March 24, 2020. https://www.techandciviclife.org/vote-at-home/.

    ^

  15. “Republicans Say Democrats’ Election Reform Bill Doesn’t Address Ballot Harvesting.” NPR. NPR, March 6, 2019. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/700873523?storyId=700873523.

    ^

  16. “The Hidden Risks of Voting by Mail.” Front Page Live, March 26, 2020. https://www.frontpagelive.com/2020/03/26/the-hidden-risks-of-voting-by-mail/.

    ^

  17. “John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.” John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Accessed April 1, 2020. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/john-d-and-catherine-t-macarthur-foundation/.

    ^

  18. “Anywhere Ballot.” Anywhere Ballout. Accessed March 31, 2020. https://civicdesign.org/projects/anywhere-ballot/.

    ^

  19. “League of Women Voters (LWV).” League of Women Voters (LWV). Accessed April 1, 2020. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/league-of-women-voters/.

    ^

  20. “Secretary of State Alex Padilla Releases Redesigned Voter Registration Card.” Secretary of State Alex Padilla Releases Redesigned Voter Registration Card | California Secretary of State, April 5, 2018. https://www.sos.ca.gov/administration/news-releases-and-advisories/2018-news-releases-and-advisories/secretary-state-alex-padilla-releases-redesigned-voter-registration-card/.

    ^

  21. Varinsky, Dana. “11 Ways to Get More People to Vote, According to Designers.” Business Insider. Business Insider, October 7, 2016. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-designers-increase-voter-turnout-2016-10?op=1#give-voters-a-little-reward-for-their-action-4.

    ^

  22. Center for Civic Design Follow. “Making Elections Accessible to All Is Still a Wicked Problem (or Curb…” LinkedIn SlideShare, June 12, 2018. https://www.slideshare.net/CivicDesign/making-elections-accessible-to-all-is-still-a-wicked-problem-or-curbcuts-for-elections.

    ^

  23. Dana Chisnell, Whitney Quesenbery. “Perspective | How a Badly Designed Ballot Might Have Swayed the Election in Florida.” The Washington Post. WP Company, November 12, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/11/12/how-badly-designed-ballot-might-have-swayed-election-florida/?utm_term=.a60aae53641a.

    ^

  24. Joseph, Cameron. “The Powerful Role Confusion Plays In American Elections.” Talking Points Memo, December 28, 2018. https://talkingpointsmemo.com/feature/the-powerful-role-confusion-plays-in-american-elections.

    ^

  25. Macedo, Paula. “A List of 30 Women Rocking in UX to Celebrate the International Women’s Day.” Medium. UX Collective, March 9, 2017. https://uxdesign.cc/top-women-in-ux-to-follow-twitter-medium-c279f3b9a728. ^
  26. [1] Quesenbery, Whitney. “Civic Design Bibliography.” Usability in Civic Life, 2012. http://www.usabilityinciviclife.org/bibliography/better-design-better-elections/.

    ^

  27. Macedo, Paula. “A List of 30 Women Rocking in UX to Celebrate the International Women’s Day.” Medium. UX Collective, March 9, 2017. https://uxdesign.cc/top-women-in-ux-to-follow-twitter-medium-c279f3b9a728.

    ^

  28. Ross, Allison. “How Bad Ballot Design Can Affect an Election. Remember Broward County 2018?” Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay Times, February 10, 2020. https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2020/02/10/how-bad-ballot-design-can-affect-an-election-remember-broward-county-2018/.

    ^

  29. “Building a Civic Engagement Toolkit for Election Officials.” Building a Civic Engagement Toolkit for Election Officials. The Center for Civic Design, 2016. https://www.innovations.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Election Toolkit.pdf.

    ^

  30. “Democracy Fund Investees.” Democracy Fund Investees. Accessed March 31, 2020. https://www.democracyfund.org/portfolio.

    ^

  31. “Demand Progress Education Fund: Legislative Capacity Project.” Democracy Fund. Accessed April 8, 2020. https://www.democracyfund.org/portfolio/entry/demand-progress-education-fund-legislative-capacity-project.

    ^

  32. “Tides Foundation: POPVOX LegiDash Fund.” Democracy Fund. Accessed April 8, 2020. https://www.democracyfund.org/portfolio/entry/popvox-legidash-fund.

     

    ^

  33. “James Irvine Foundation.” James Irvine Foundation. Accessed April 1, 2020. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/james-irvine-foundation/. ^
  34. “Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides Released.” CAVotes.org, October 5, 2015. https://cavotes.org/announcement/2015/feb/best-practices-manual-official-voter-information-guides-released. ^
  35. “Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides Released.” CAVotes.org, October 5, 2015. https://cavotes.org/announcement/2015/feb/best-practices-manual-official-voter-information-guides-released. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 2013

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $733,295 $681,888 $271,494 $217,182 N $345,005 $388,267 $23 $240,000 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $591,276 $588,726 $136,461 $133,556 N $385,274 $205,994 $8 $197,494
    2015 Dec Form 990 $422,027 $423,872 $79,017 $78,662 N $410,119 $11,899 $9 $126,750 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $343,124 $304,591 $73,284 $34,144 N $343,103 $0 $21 $174,806 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990EZ $15,584 $14,977 $215,630 $215,023 $0 $0 $0 $0 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Center for Civic Design

    5443 TATES BANK RD
    CAMBRIDGE, MD 21613-3422