Ballot paper order

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Brian Rudman writes:

Tomorrow, Auckland councillors decide whether candidates’ names in this year’s ballot papers should be listed in alphabetical order.

But plenty of research around the world suggests those at the top of the list have an advantage even without the compulsion.

Researchers from City University in London examined the relationship between vote ranking and the position on the 2010 local government election ballot paper of 5000 candidates in the Greater London area.

This was a first past the post election, won by the top three polling candidates in a ward. Most candidates were on party tickets and names were in alphabetical order.

The outcome was that “on average, a candidate listed first in their party was 6.3 times more likely to get the most votes in their party than a candidate listed third.”

The researchers concluded that “ballot position did indeed strongly influence the number of votes received by candidates … and that some of those who are currently representing London may have benefited from this effect, just as those who are not, suffered from it”.

The authors said there was “some evidence that the strength of this effect is sufficient to overcome voter preference for party, most likely in marginal seats …”

The Local Government Commission, in a July 2008 review, acknowledged a similar effect in the 2007 New Zealand local elections. Candidates whose names appeared early in the alphabetically listed voting papers and candidate profile booklets “were up to four per cent more likely to be elected than those whose names were later in the alphabet”.

I have no doubt the order of names assists those as the top. Not so much for elections with few well known candidates, but especially for ones like District Health Boards.

I think all local body ballots should have randomised order for its ballots. With bar code scanning, they don’t need to all be in the same order.

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10 Responses to “Ballot paper order”

  1. labrator (1,691 comments) says:

    The first entry should be a trick one with no real candidate. Their fake policies should be ridiculous. If you then vote for that person, all of your votes are discounted.

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  2. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    If the will of the people is so weak that listing the candidates in alphabetical order means Mr Adams and Mr Anderson get more votes, then

    (1) isn’t the “democracy” that is supposedly at work a bit of a farce? And therefore
    (2) Wouldn’t we be better off just having a competent technocrat appointed to do the job?

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  3. KiwiGreg (3,129 comments) says:

    @ RRM even with postal voting local bodies are getting turnouts of 1 in 3 voters. Unsurprisingly this leads to more radical spoonheads getting elected as only a small minority of activists can make a difference. Democracy is a crappy system but it’s still better than the alternative.

    Who would appoint your technocrat, for ecample?

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  4. krazykiwi (9,188 comments) says:

    Physical ballot papers are the first sign of how far we haven’t advanced.

    The second sign is the incompetence on display as one reads down the list of names.

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  5. Dennis Horne (2,059 comments) says:

    How does randomising names on one universal list help?

    Could solve the problem only if a randomised list was generated for each voter. Not impossible.

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  6. simonway (356 comments) says:

    For physical ballots, use Robson rotation like in Tasmania and the ACT. If you have online voting, you can just present every voter with a randomly generated order.

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  7. Nigel Kearney (747 comments) says:

    Randomizing the ballot paper is not too hard but don’t they also send out a booklet with information about the candidates? Then you need to randomize the booklet as well in case people read the first couple of candidate statements and then stop. It’s starting to get hard if you have to publish many different versions of that booklet.

    Instead, just send out a blank ballot paper and nothing else. The voter has to write in the candidate(s) they want to vote for. Everyone has the right to vote but I don’t see why we necessarily have to make it as easy as possible for voters to overcome their own ignorance.

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  8. Phil (117 comments) says:

    If the will of the people is so weak that listing the candidates in alphabetical order means Mr Adams and Mr Anderson get more votes, then

    (1) isn’t the “democracy” that is supposedly at work a bit of a farce? And therefore
    (2) Wouldn’t we be better off just having a competent technocrat appointed to do the job?

    Quit trying to fuck this up for me.

    Regards,
    Phil Anderson

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  9. Richard29 (377 comments) says:

    The bit that surprised me about the additional cost of complete randomisation was $100k.

    Why do you need computerised randomisation of each individual ballot paper. I suspect you could do ten different print runs with different randomisation of the names (pick them from a hat) and it would eliminate the top of list bias effect perfectly well at a fraction of the cost.

    If I put forward a business case like this at work I’d be told to stop gold plating the solution and come up with something more practical that does the job. Why can the council not do the same with our rates money.

    If there are say 1 million eligible voters in Auckland that means 10 print runs of 100,000 ballot papers (and booklets) rather than 1 print run of a million papers. There is no way that 10 separate print runs should cost anywhere near $100,000….

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  10. simonway (356 comments) says:

    Yes, you don’t have to do every single permutation, because once there are 7 candidates, there are over 5,000 possible orderings.

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