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Don’t Use All Caps in Ballot Setup

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Don't Use All Caps in Ballot SetupDisregard for the moment the controversy that swelled when the Federal Highway Administration mandated last year that all road signs need to begin using mixed case street names instead of all caps and you find there’s actually a very well-founded logic for the mandate.

Election administrators would be well advised to appreciate and follow that logic and never use all caps for any of the editable parts of a ballot. “Editable parts” means the election name, positions, candidate names, and of course any text in the candidate biography or position descriptions.

True, all caps has its place in the world of design. But that’s design being done by designers who know what they’re doing. They know the rules and know when and how to break them. When configuring a ballot, you’re not engaging in the practice of design, you’re simply submitting values into data fields and all caps has no place in any of those fields.

So what makes it so bad? The most obvious reason which I expect everyone knows is that it’s considered yelling and thus, quite rude. That alone should be reason enough to end this article right here, but there’s more.

All caps destroys a word’s shape making it more difficult to read. Humans don’t read text by parsing through each letter to determine the word. Instead, we recognize words by their shape, called their Bouma Shape to be exact. Hello has a very different shape than goodbye. Hello starts with a high point, then a dip, another high point, and another dip. All without any part of the word dropping below the baseline on which the text sits. goodbye on the other hand starts by dropping below the baseline, then cruising along almost to the end where there’s a high point, immediately followed by another descender dropping below the baseline. If you were to draw an outline around these words using no curves, only horizontal and vertical lines, that outline would form a shape that might make it possible to recognize the word from just the outline alone. Some words do of course share similar outlines, so context is another variable that factors into recognizing a word’s shape. Now imagine if the words were HELLO and GOODBYE. The outline would have no high points; no descenders; no shape at all other than just a rectangle that is proportional to the word’s length. Certainly not enough to form a recognizable shape of the word.

Least obvious of all is that you may be damaging the deliverability of any email sent by the system if you put the name of your election in all caps. The name of the election appears in the subject line of any email the ElectionsOnline software sends to voters. All caps in a subject line is seen as a red flag to many email service providers and so your email will have a strike against it when it comes to reaching the inbox if the election name is in all caps. Too much effort goes into getting election-related email to reach the inbox to foul it up using all caps as the name of your election.

The ballot was designed under the assumption that all text on it be mixed case. This is an easy thing to get right, so hopefully continued reviews of ballots won’t reveal any all caps anywhere.