Basis for Alternate Interpretations of the Palm Beach Ballot

There are at least three clear cognitive paths by which voters in Palm Beach, Florida could have miscast their intended vote for Gore as a vote for Buchanan, or as a double vote for both Gore and Buchanan. The alternative paths are summarized as gestalt grouping, linear visual search, and numeric mapping. For a more robust statistical analysis of the Palm Beach returns, I recommend reading Craig Fox's Election 2000 Notes. My more subjective running commentary on election issues (and everything else) can be read on my weblog.


Gestalt Grouping


The first interpretation is a classic example of gestalt visual processing: In this scenario the voter subconsciously groups the items forming a line into a single entity. In this case, the bar, hole and arrow are recognized by the brain as being grouped together. As the bar is the only element that extends into the text description of a candidate, the entire grouping is then linked to that candidate and the incorrect hole is punched.
In this scenario an intended vote for Gore would go to Buchanan, and intended vote for Buchanan would go to Bush, and an intended vote for Bush would also go to Bush, because without an arrow on the other side opposite the bar at the top of the page, no incorrect gestalt grouping is likely when voting for Bush.


Linear Visual Search


The second scenario is an alternative linear visual search. In this case the voter first searches for the candidate's name. Then, their eyes are drawn to the larger type block specifying party affiliation. From there their eyes continue on the same pathway, following the line, which points directly to a hole, which the voter then punches, entirely missing the arrow which lies outside the visual scanning path.
In this interpretation the Gore vote would go to Buchanan, the Buchanan vote would go to Bush, and the Bush vote would also go to Bush because the line doesn't end in a hole, forcing the scanning path to continue down, encountering the arrow, pointing to the proper hole.


Numeric Mapping


In the third interpretation, the voter makes a cognitive association between the order of the candidates on the left-hand side and the order of the holes. They note that Gore is the second candidate down on the list, proceed to the ballot holes, advance to the second hole down, and verify that there is a line from that hole pointing in the direction of, and bounding, their intended candidate.
In this scenario the Gore vote would go to Buchanan, the Buchanan vote would go to Buchanan, and the Bush vote would go to Bush.

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