Faculty Scholarship Digest
Mary Beth Beazley
Mary Beth Beazley, Hiding in Plain Sight: “Conspicuous Type” Standards in Mandated Communication Statutes, 40 J. Legis. 1 (2013-14).
This article examines an anomaly of “mandated communication statutes,”—statutes that require “that certain information be conveyed in a certain way between certain parties.” Most of these statutes regulate either business to consumer communications or government to citizen communications. Examples run from the truth in lending act to statutes covering support payments following custody proceedings. The anomaly Mary Beth notes is that although these statutes are generally designed to “help the reader make informed decisions,” and they often dictate the language and prominence of the disclosure, “the emphatic devices that legislatures use serve only to allow readers to see that the information exists; they do not ensure that the reader can read, let alone understand, the relevant language.” The “Plain English” movement has not penetrated state legislatures as far as it might, and USE OF SUCH DEVICES AS ALL CAPS TO MEET CONSPICUOUSNESS REQUIREMENTS ACTUALLY UNDERMINES UNDERSTANDING OF ALL BUT THE SHORTEST COMMUNICATIONS.
After describing and detailing these problems, the article turns to the science of reader-comprehension and offers lessons from that literature for mandatory communication statutes. Document design, readability, and organizational signals are all well-researched areas from which appropriate legislative mandates can be drawn, and Mary Beth provides descriptions and examples. The article emphasizes that, in the context of mandatory communication statutes, putting the burden of comprehension on readers simply makes no sense.
Mary Beth Beazley, Ballot Design as Fail-Safe: An Ounce of Rotation Is Worth a Pound of Litigation, 12 Election L.J. 18 (2013).
In this article, Mary Beth Beazley uses her expertise in effective document design and applies it to the design of ballots and the rotation of candidates’ names. For generations, candidates have argued that the candidate listed first on the ballot gets more votes due to simply being listed first—the primacy effect. The solution has been ballot rotation—rotating the name of the first candidate on different ballots. Recent research shows that the primacy effect may be insignificant, calling into question ballot rotation. Beazley argues that rotation is still appropriate based on minimizing the electoral impact of two other categories of mis-votes. First, rotation mitigates the impact of proximity-mistake votes—where voters mis-vote for a candidate in the proximity to their chosen candidate. Second, rotation mitigates the impact of mis-votes caused by flawed ballot design. Beazley sees ballot rotation as the best way to avoid “electoral meltdown” and costly and ineffective post-election litigation. She calls for the enactment of precinct-level rotation to evenly spread the benefits and burdens of various ballot positions.
Mary Beth Beazley, A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO APPELLATE ADVOCACY (Aspen 3d ed. 2010).
In this latest edition of her popular text, Mary Beth continues the process of refinement based on feedback from the book’s many users. The book achieves a remarkable combination of comprehensiveness and accessibility. There is broad perspective and detailed process advice, discussion from using storytelling theory to assist with the statement of facts to where and how to address opponents arguments, to advice about moot court competitions and lots of examples and samples. Yet, using Mary Beth’s trademark humor (The book’s first line is a good example: “Okay, I’m going to start out by violating a principle of legal writing and ask you a question: Why are you reading this book? Let me guess — because you have to”) the information and instruction is welcoming rather than overwhelming. And now, completely up-to-date.
Mary Beth Beazley, Ballot Design, in The Encylopedia of Political Science)(George Thomas Curian et al. eds CQ Press 2010)
This piece describes the importance of ballot design issues, the major controversies, and proposed solutions. With an extensive bibliography, the entry highlights the reality that there is no “neutral choice mechanism” and also notes some of the most significant flaws that can cause confusion or failure to vote. Position impact receives particular attention and the entry covers international ballot design issues as well.