Ballot paper order

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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