Archive For November 24, 2018

Why Are So Many Election Ballots Confusing?

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Why Are So Many Election Ballots Confusing?

On a marked-up 2018 sample ballot from Chenango County, N.Y., illustrated index fingers point toward each candidate and tiny unfamiliar emblems represent each party — an eagle for Republicans, for example. One design expert calls these elements seriously antiquated.

Cameron Pollack/NPR


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Cameron Pollack/NPR

Whitney Quesenbery knows a well-designed ballot when she sees it: lower-case letters, left-aligned text, a clean sans-serif font.

Quesenbery has been assessing ballot design for nearly two decades. Los Angeles County’s is one of the best she has seen.

“Look at those instructions,” she says, admiring the ballot’s simple wording and standout color. “They’re beautiful.”

A co-founder of the Center for Civic Design, Quesenbery regularly advises election boards on best practices for their ballots. Some places, like Los Angeles, have incorporated the design principles espoused by the center. But, Quesenbery says, many other counties are stuck using ballots that look as if they came out of the last century.

“There are still people voting on pre-2000 voting systems,” she says. “I do.”

Demo 2018 voting materials from the Los Angeles County Board of Elections feature lower case letters, left-aligned text, a clean sans-serif font, simple instructions and color coding.

Hubert Klerks/Los Angeles County Board of Elections


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Hubert Klerks/Los Angeles County Board of Elections

Quesenbery is registered in Hunterdon County, N.J., which she says uses electronic voting machines over 2 decades old. Vintage machines mean vintage ballot styles. She says her ballot is wider than her two outstretched arms.

New York’s election boards are similarly constrained by old technology and even older election code. The state’s rules on ballot design are some of the most stringent in the country.

Quesenbery examines a ballot from Chenango County, N.Y., which has a typical layout for the state.

There are illustrated index fingers pointing toward each candidate. Beneath the fingers are tiny emblems representing each party — a star for Democrats, an eagle for Republicans, a peace sign for the Green Party. And, at the bottom of the page sit the instructions, directing voters to “mark only with a writing instrument provided by the Board of Elections.”

Quesenbery says these elements are antiquated. She calls the instructions verbose, the emblems meaningless, and the finger reminiscent of “a typographic convention from the ’40s.”

“We need to move on,” she says.

These designs do more than irk usability experts. They can cause voters to make real mistakes. The Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute, estimates tens of thousands – and in some cases hundreds of thousands – of votes are lost or miscast in election years due to poor ballot design.

Tina Oliviero designed this year’s ballot in Chenango County, N.Y. She says most voters figure it out just fine, but there are always a few who struggle with the ovals.

“We do have voters that don’t fill it in, and they ‘x’ or check,” she says. “But I feel that [the instructions] make it simple and it makes it so people should know you fill the oval in and then you cast your ballot.”

One problem, says Quesenbery, is that voters won’t read the directions at the bottom of the page. If New York’s election code allowed for it, she recommends the county condense its 276-word instructions and bump them to the top.

“The basic rule is [instructions] should be before the thing you have to do,” she explains.

Quesenbery says tiny design flaws like these likely result in “little ballot errors all over the country.”

This year, the errors weren’t so little. New York City’s voters were subject to a series of setbacks after the election board unrolled a perforated two-page ballot. Voters who didn’t know they had to tear at the edges to get at the entire ballot ended up skipping the middle pages. Then the fat ballots jammed the scanners, long lines formed, and people’s ballots got soaked in the rain. When voters fed the soggy ballots into scanners, more machines malfunctioned.

In Georgia, hundreds blundered on their absentee ballot, incorrectly filling out the birth date section. Counties originally threw out the ballots before a federal judge ordered they be counted.

And in Broward County, Fla., 30,000 people who voted for governor skipped the contest for U.S. Senate. The county’s election board had placed that contest under a block of multi-lingual instructions, which ran halfway down the page. Quesenbery says voters scanning the instructions likely skimmed right over the race.

She has seen this design before. In 2009, King County, Wash., buried a tax initiative under a text-heavy column of instructions. An estimated 40,000 voters ended up missing the contest, leading the state to pass a bill mandating ballot directions look significantly different from the contests below.

“We know the answers,” says Quesenbery. “I wish we were making new mistakes, not making the same old mistakes.”

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Protests In Paris Turn Violent

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Protests In Paris Turn Violent

A protester holds a French flag above Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue on Saturday. Many demonstrators believe that French President Emmanuel Macron is far removed from the problems of the “little people.”

Michel Euler/AP


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Michel Euler/AP

Protesters gathered in Paris on Saturday after more than a week of demonstrations across the country against high fuel prices.

According to The Associated Press, about 5,000 demonstrators rallied in the nation’s capital, brandishing French flags and signs denigrating French President Emmanuel Macron.

As NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports from the city, protesters are building barricades in the streets while police fire tear gas and water cannons. They’re wearing fluorescent yellow jackets, which everyone in France must carry in their cars, and screaming, “Macron, resign.”

Many believe that the president is far removed from the problems of the “little people.”

Protesters in Paris form a barrier against police water cannons.

Kamil Zihnioglu/AP


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Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

The French already pay some of the highest gas prices in the world — and a tax hike set to go into effect in January will make them higher.

As French congressman Marc Le Fur told Beardsley, “A year ago, the president encouraged people to take jobs far from home, and now, he’s making it too costly to do so.”

The movement has no clear leaders, and “no one knows where it’s going to go now,” Beardsley says. “This is a different kind of protest than we’ve ever seen before.”

Protests started last Saturday, when almost 300,000 people took to the streets in more than 2,000 separate protests across the country. More than 200 people were injured and more than 100 were arrested, according to figures from the French Interior Ministry. Two people died in accidents stemming from the demonstrations.

A statement from the French Interior Ministry earlier in the week reinforced that French citizens have the right to protest — but encouraged demonstrators to do so safely.

Macron has promised some concessions, which will be announced next week.

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European Leaders Close In On Brexit Deal

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European Leaders Close In On Brexit Deal

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, and European Council President Donald Tusk flip through the pages of a draft agreement on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Brussels.

Francisco Seco/AP


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Francisco Seco/AP

European Union leaders are poised to come to a deal on Brexit this weekend in Brussels.

The deal — a document of more than 500 pages — would allow the U.K. a 20-month “transition period” before breaking off from the EU.

EU President Donald Tusk says he’d “recommend that we approve on Sunday,” even though “no one has reasons to be happy.”

I will recommend that we approve on Sunday the outcome of the #Brexit negotiations. No one has reasons to be happy. But at least at this critical time, the EU27 has passed the test of unity and solidarity. https://t.co/N3EexasL2n

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) November 24, 2018

In a statement, Tusk wrote to the European Council, “During these negotiations, no-one wanted to defeat anyone. We were all looking for a good and fair agreement. And I believe that we have finally found the best possible compromise.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez previously expressed concerns about the future of Gibraltar, the British territory of less than 3 square miles on Spain’s southern coast.

Those fears were quelled after Sanchez spoke with Tusk, and directly with British leaders, on Saturday.

After the phone call between @eucopresident and @sanchezcastejon a few minutes ago we are closer to tomorrow’s #EUCO

— Preben Aamann (@PrebenEUspox) November 24, 2018

British Ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow wrote in a letter that the U.K. “will negotiate the future agreements implementing the Joint Political Declaration on behalf of all territories for whose external relations the U.K. is responsible to ensure an appropriate and beneficial future relationship with the EU.”

Sanchez confirmed that a deal had been reached over the future of Gibraltar, according to the Associated Press.

Leaders will vote on Sunday. If the deal passes, it will head to the British parliament, where it awaits further opposition.

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European Leaders Close In On Brexit Deal

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European Leaders Close In On Brexit Deal

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, and European Council President Donald Tusk flip through the pages of a draft agreement on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Brussels.

Francisco Seco/AP


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Francisco Seco/AP

European Union leaders are poised to come to a deal on Brexit this weekend in Brussels.

The deal — a document of more than 500 pages — would allow the U.K. a 20-month “transition period” before breaking off from the EU.

EU President Donald Tusk says he’d “recommend that we approve on Sunday,” even though “no one has reasons to be happy.”

I will recommend that we approve on Sunday the outcome of the #Brexit negotiations. No one has reasons to be happy. But at least at this critical time, the EU27 has passed the test of unity and solidarity. https://t.co/N3EexasL2n

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) November 24, 2018

In a statement, Tusk wrote to the European Council, “During these negotiations, no-one wanted to defeat anyone. We were all looking for a good and fair agreement. And I believe that we have finally found the best possible compromise.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez previously expressed concerns about the future of Gibraltar, the British territory of less than 3 square miles on Spain’s southern coast.

Those fears were quelled after Sanchez spoke with Tusk, and directly with British leaders, on Saturday.

After the phone call between @eucopresident and @sanchezcastejon a few minutes ago we are closer to tomorrow’s #EUCO

— Preben Aamann (@PrebenEUspox) November 24, 2018

British Ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow wrote in a letter that the U.K. “will negotiate the future agreements implementing the Joint Political Declaration on behalf of all territories for whose external relations the U.K. is responsible to ensure an appropriate and beneficial future relationship with the EU.”

Sanchez confirmed that a deal had been reached over the future of Gibraltar, according to the Associated Press.

Leaders will vote on Sunday. If the deal passes, it will head to the British parliament, where it awaits further opposition.

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How The 'New World' Symphony Introduced American Music To Itself

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How The 'New World' Symphony Introduced American Music To Itself

U.S. Navy CPO Graham Jackson, with tears of grief, plays “Goin’ Home,” from Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s body is carried from Warm Springs, Ga., where he died.

Ed Clark/Life Picture Collection/Getty


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Ed Clark/Life Picture Collection/Getty

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out what’s great about a culture. That’s exactly what Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was when he came to the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, an immigrant thrown into a new world and new sounds.

Out of that experience, he wrote a symphony for America: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, subtitled “From the New World,” has become one of the world’s most beloved orchestral works. It also produced a melody that is a hymn and an anthem to what American music can be.

When Dvorak came to America in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance was new. So were Carnegie Hall, the game of basketball and Edison’s wax cylinders. Classical music in America wasn’t new — but it needed a reboot. Already a celebrated composer in Europe, Dvorak was hired to run the National Conservatory of Music in New York to help American composers find their own voices and shake off the European sound.

At the time, American concert music sounded a lot like Brahms and Beethoven. Dvorak heard something different, in an unexpected place, as he told the New York Herald just before he debuted his “New World” symphony.

“The future of this country must be founded upon what are called the Negro melodies,” he declared. “This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States.” Essentially, this was Dvorak telling white Americans that the future of their music resided in the people they had subjugated and killed.

“It was radical, and I think that he got harshly criticized and really rejected,” says JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, who has conducted the “New World” Symphony many times. “Dvorak was surprised, in a way, to find that the roots of American music were not European, they were African-American.”

The music he found here included African-American spirituals, introduced to him by a young black man named Harry Burleigh, who had applied to be a student at Dvorak’s National Conservatory.

“Dvorak chose a black person to be his assistant. How likely is that?” says Joe Horowitz, author of the book Classical Music in America, noting that this was, after all, America in the 1890s. “He’s probably thinking at least two things: ‘I want to help this young black man,’ and ‘This young black man is going to help me.’ “

Burleigh, from Erie, Pa., was a self-taught baritone, who sang spirituals to Dvorak, like “Go Down Moses,” which the composer said had a melody to rival Beethoven. Another one Burleigh introduced Dvorak to was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” “Burleigh claimed that Dvorak was actually quoting ‘Swing Low’ in the opening movement of the ‘New World Symphony,'” says Horowitz.

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Dvorak recognized a rich tradition sitting under his nose, one that most American composers seemed blind to. He wove American roots music into his vast symphonic canvas. And, inspired by black spirituals, he came up with a bittersweet melody that would become a spiritual of its own: the “Largo,” the symphony’s second movement, a kind of song without words scored for the English horn.

After Dvorak died, the “Largo” was turned into “Goin’ Home” in 1922 by William Arms Fisher — a white student of Dvorak’s, who added words to the composer’s melody. “Most people who know “Goin’ Home” assume that it’s a spiritual that Dvorak quoted,” Horowitz says. In fact, it was the other way around: Dvorak’s melody went from the concert hall to the church hymnbook.

“My family all thought it was a spiritual,” admits bass-baritone Kevin Deas, who first heard “Goin’ Home” as a kid, not realizing the music was by Dvorak. He later recorded the song himself.

“We had ‘Goin’ Home’ in our hymnals that I grew up singing, and so I was familiar with the melody, but there was just this instant sense of, ‘I could identify with this music.’ Deas says. “It has that sense of longing, and so much of the African-American spiritual tradition comes with this idea that heaven, or home, is a beautiful place to go to.”

Dvorak’s “Largo” became not just an anthem for the weary, but also a hymn for those who have died. It was performed at memorial events for presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Gerald Ford. And it even inspired black composers and musicians, from avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler to pianist Art Tatum, who made the “Largo” swing in 1949.

An 1893 advertisement for the world premiere of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

Carnegie Hall Archives


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Carnegie Hall Archives

Dvorak had a dream that American composers would follow his example, cultivating their own musical soil to grow distinctly American anthems of their own. Horowitz said it didn’t go exactly as he’d envisioned.

“We blew it. We never fulfilled Dvorak’s prophecy. We squandered it. We should have had a legacy of black classical music and we don’t,” Horowitz says. Instead, it was popular music that soaked up African-American influences — which is great, he adds.

Still, Falletta says, some did hear Dvorak’s call. “He made American composers think about music differently,” she says. “The entire history of 20th century American music changed because of Antonin Dvorak. And maybe his prediction, then, gave composers like Gershwin the feeling that using jazz and writing for classical orchestra was okay.”

George Gershwin to looked to jazz, and Aaron Copland would look to American folk music in ballets like Appalachian Spring and Rodeo — but before any of them was Dvorak. Before the birth of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, an old, white, European composer predicted that black music was America’s future.

“The roots of American music — whether it be African-American or Native American or ragtime or Louisiana bayou music — all of that has now become accepted as a rich part of our fabric of our musical life,” Falletta says.

That musical melting pot is what Antonin Dvorak celebrated, and even elevated, in his “New World” symphony: a philosophy of inclusion rendered in music.

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Samsung Apologizes To Ill Workers, Promises To Compensate Them

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Samsung Apologizes To Ill Workers, Promises To Compensate Them

Kinam Kim, president and CEO of Samsung’s Device Solutions division, bowed in apology at a Friday news conference in Seoul, South Korea.

Lee Jin-man/AP


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Lee Jin-man/AP

Samsung Electronics has issued a formal apology to its workers who were stricken with serious illnesses after working at its factories. It also promised to compensate them.

At a press conference, Kinam Kim, president and CEO of the company’s Device Solutions Division, gave a low bow as part of the apology.

“Beloved colleagues and families have suffered for a long time, but Samsung Electronics failed to take care of the matter earlier,” Kim said, according to Yonhap News Agency. “Samsung Electronics also did not fully and completely manage potential health risks at our chip and liquid-crystal display production lines.”

This apology and promise of compensation is more than a decade in the making. As NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reported from Seoul, “Dozens of workers have reportedly developed cancer, leukemia and other afflictions at the world’s largest chip-maker.”

However, Kuhn reports, it’s worth noting that “Kim stopped short, though, of admitting that the workplace was the direct cause of the workers’ illnesses.”

One of the instigators of the push was Hwang Sang-gi, whose daughter Yu-mi contracted leukemia and died after working at a Samsung factory.

“No apology would be enough when considering the deception and humiliation we experienced (from Samsung) over the past 11 years, the pain of suffering from occupational diseases, the pain of losing loved ones,” Hwang said at the news conference, according to The Associated Press. But he added that he views the apology as a vow to improve safety conditions.

Hwang is one of the founders of the activist group SHARPS, which stands for “Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry.” The group has criticized the semiconductor industry, which they say exposes workers to dangerous, toxic chemicals.

According to Yale Environment 360, a year after Yu-mi died, a woman who operated from the same workstation also died of leukemia. It highlights other cases:

“In March 2010, a 23-year-old woman named Park Ji-Yeon, who had worked at Samsung’s On-Yang semiconductor plant since 2004, also died of leukemia, three years after her diagnosis. In 2005, a 27-year old woman named Han Hae-kyoung, who had worked in a Samsung LCD plant since 1995, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and is now seriously disabled. Another woman, Lee Yoon-jeong, who worked for Samsung in semiconductor production between 1997 and 2003, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010 at age 30.”

Kim promised compensation for workers who had gotten sick at chip and liquid crystal display factories, Kuhn reported, “including parents who had miscarriages, or children with congenital diseases.”

According to Reuters, “Samsung will pay up to 150 million won ($132,649.45 USD) for each former and current employee suffering from work-related diseases if they are found to be caused by exposure to harmful chemicals.” Compensation is available to people who worked at these facilities for more than a year, dating back to 1984, the wire service added.

There’s no official tally of precisely how many people have gotten sick and even died after working at the plants. The BBC reported that SHARPS “said it had found 319 other victims, 117 of whom had died, as of June this year.”

The compensation will be administered by a law firm, Yonhap reported, and people can apply for compensation until at least 2028.

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