Jargon Costs DC City Gov $30k

Do you know the difference between a “vote center” and a “polling place”? The DC Board of Elections assumed that residents understood the distinction, and that voters wouldn’t be confused by their confusing postcard.

This postcard on the upcoming special election read: One Judiciary Square is the only vote center open for this election.

Like most people, I interpreted this statement to mean that the only place to vote in the upcoming special election was One Judiciary Square. But what the Board of Elections actually meant was that One Judiciary Square was the only early voting center. Regular polling places would be open as usual.

Since everyone who bothered to read this postcard misunderstood it, the DC Board of Elections is going to have to do a second mailing, this time one that is easier to comprehend. The cost? $30,000.

Plain language saves government money. If this postcard had been written in clear, jargon-free prose, then residents would’ve understood when and where to vote, without a second postcard and embarrassing media coverage.

The story also illustrates the dangers of living in your own organizational bubble. A “vote center” probably makes sense if you work in elections. But is it a common term that the public would understand? No.

Also, how many voters did this postcard discourage from voting? The card states that you have to go to One Judiciary Square to vote, a location that is not convenient for many people. The postcard doesn’t even give the address for One Judiciary Square, assuming that everyone knows this government building. Turn-out for special elections is already low and the Board of Elections has managed to depress it further.

Think that poor writing doesn’t have a cost? Think again – a few poorly chosen words on a postcard cost the DC Board of Elections $30k and damaged their reputation.

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