Voting lists: Alphabetic or Random?

Should the name of candidate Aardvark, Al always come before Zizovic, Jo on the ballot paper?

Not in Wallingford, Connecticut, where the names of the candidates are in random order:

There is a twist to this procedure: Republicans and Democrats alternate on the ballot paper.

Q. (for our US readers) Is the randomization of ballot order used widely in the US?

Q. (for the rest of us) Should we copy this practice?

4 Responses

  1. Each state adopts its own rule. My state uses alphabetical order, starting with A. Many states ROTATE candidate names, such that there are as many different ballot styles as candidates, with each being first on some ballots. I don’t know if any pick a name at random to start an alphabetical order, or use fully random order. I believe studies have shown a small but statistically significant advantage to being listed at the top.


  2. Random placement of candidates on the ballot is nearly universal in the U.S. I am not aware of any state or locality that does not do so. It is sometimes done in a ceremony in which the candidates or their representatives draw numbers from a jar.

    Party order is less random. In some states the order is descending by the number of votes the party candidate for the highest office received in the last election, with a new party that has qualified since then assigned by some other rule, such as alphabetically. In others it may be alphabetic.

    Ballot propositions are numbered, so appear in numeric order.

    Random placement seems to be favored by most, and is recommended.


  3. I think random assignment of party order happens often in the U.S., but it is far from universal. You might check out Jon Krosnick’s work on the subject. He argues that being listed first on the ballot gets you a significant number of extra votes. It’s not gigantic, but it’s a large enough effect to swing elections. Indeed, he argues that being listed first on the ballot in Florida benefited George W. Bush more than all those butterfly ballots. (Florida, at least in 2000, did not randomize candidate order, but listed the party of the incumbent governor first. In Florida in 2000, that was George W.’s brother, Jeb Bush.)


  4. I find this all very re-assuring!

    I recall that in Ireland (Eire) where STV operates, with multi-seat constituencies — up to 5 TDs — the ballot paper is alphbetic and can list dozens of names. Voters choose by preference 1, 2, 3….

    It hardly needs a sociologist or statistician to detect the bias in favour of surnames beginning with ‘A’ even amongst the same party.


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