Skip to main content

Ballot order could be used to counter electoral advantages.

On Tuesday, the Telegram and Gazette reported that the ballot order was selected for the upcoming city council and school committee races. 

The order for the at-large council, mayoral, and school committee races were selected by random lottery.  As it turned out, the top spot in all three races went to incumbents who already have a massive advantage and certainly don't need another one. 

Meanwhile, the district races are determined solely based on incumbency with the incumbents appearing first and the other (where applicable) following.

Federal elections on the other hand put the names in alphabetical order.  Still others place the Republicans and Democrats at the top of the ballot, leaving all other candiates below, further diminishing the slight chance they have. 

The fact that Worcester opts to determine the order based on a lottery indicates that there is some advantage to being at the top of the ballot.  This is probably because voters who recognize none of the names tend to vote for the top name. 

The randomized and alphabetized ballot orders are attempts to counter this advantage and they are certainly superior systems to giving the already hugely advataged incumbents and party candidates still another advantage.  However, the fact remains that the advantage will go to someone.  I suggest therefore that instead of trying to avoid the issue, let's acknowledge it and use it to counter the undue advantage held by incumbents, Democrats, and Republicans.  It would only be fair.

I recommend that for now on all ballots be ordered first by incumbency status and then by party.  The incumbent would always be at the bottom of the list with all challengers above him/her. 

Challengers would then be ordered according to party membership within the district or state in which the candidates seek to serve.  Presidential candidates would be ordered according to national party membership.  This would almost always put Democrats and Republicans at the bottom.  Also included in this reform would be a ban on indicating who the incumbent is.

This will, of course, not come close to counter the advantage held by incumbents due to their ability to fundraise, the presence of existing political machines, name recognition, and previous constituent service.  Nor will it eliminate the advantage held by major party candidates due to the entrenchment of the two party system.  It will, however, mean that incumbents and party candidates will have to earn every vote. 

It may even encourage the uninformed voter to actually pay attention, lest they vote for the Prohibition Party candidate.