An Odd Name Game On The Ballot
There’s an odd thing about this year’s election ballot: In all four races for North Carolina’s Supreme Court, a known conservative candidate is listed first. Their liberal counterparts, second.
The races are officially non-partisan but that name placement may give a significant boost to those at the top.
If you’ve seen a ballot and missed this odd fact, don’t worry, you’re not alone. "It’s actually the first time I’m hearing of it," says spokesman for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Josh Lawson.
Since judicial races are non-partisan races, there is no R or D next to the candidate names. But the political inclinations of those seeking a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court are known and public.
Just to be sure, we asked Lawson to go through the list, starting with the race between Bob Hunter and Sam Ervin. Hunter is listed first.
JL: To my knowledge, yeah, he’s a registered Republican. TB: Eric Levinson? JL: Also yes TB: Mike Robinson? JL: Right.
The fourth race is between Mark Martin and Ola Lewis, both of whom are known conservatives.
Now this isn’t a vast right wing conspiracy. But it is because of "W" (the letter not the former president).
Since 2002, the Board of Elections has used the alphabet and candidate’s last name to determine the ballot order in non-partisan races with a couple of twists.
In 2002, their alphabet went backwards from Z to A.
In 2004, A to Z.
In 2006, their alphabet started with Y and went backwards… with Z tacked on after A.
And on it goes until we get to this year and this alphabet, which starts with W.
So the fact that conservative candidates for the state Supreme Court are listed above liberal candidates is a quirky thing, years in the making.
However, it does have some potential consequences this year. Ballot order does matter. "In about 80 percent of elections, the name order has influence on the election outcome," says Professor Jon Krosnick, reached on his way to work at Stanford.
Krosnick has spent decades studying the “primacy effect,” or why things listed first are picked more often. In terms of elections, Krosnick says, "I will get three percent more votes, on average, by being listed first. And you will get three percent less votes because I take them away from you."
Krosnick adds that the effect is most visible when the candidates listed aren’t household names. "The name order effect is stronger among people who feel ambivalent. It's stronger among people who know little or nothing about the candidates."
Which is the case for most voters when it comes to judicial races.