Committee approves bill aimed at stopping ballot alphabet games

First Published      Last Updated Mar 02 2017 01:21 pm

Election edge? » Some say the order of candidates’ listing affects vote’s result.

A rose by any other name smells as sweet, but a political candidate by another name could have an advantage on the ballot.

That's the premise behind SB269, which would have the state elections office wait until after the candidate filing deadline to generate its randomized alphabetical order for ballot listing.

"The order a person appears on a ballot, especially in a nonpartisan race or in a primary, can affect the outcome of an election," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, the bill's sponsor.

Because the current practice sees the ballot alphabet released ahead of the filing deadline, Stephenson said, candidates are able to tweak their names for better positioning in the voting booth.

He didn't name any specific officeholders, but it is widely suspected that alphabet gamesmanship occurred in last year's crowded Utah Board of Education District 7 race. That race saw incumbent Leslie Castle file under the name Leslie Brooks-Castle, and her challenger — and eventual winner — Carol Lear file under the name Carol Barlow-Lear.

"That happened in a number of elections this last year," Stephenson said.

Mark Thomas, the state's elections director, said his office was comfortable with the bill. But he noted that the current system of generating the order before the filing deadline was in response to concerns that elections officials could manipulate the ballot listing to favor individuals.

"Either way," he said, "we're probably going to get blamed if someone is second on the ballot."

He said the elections office uses an electronic randomization process to set the ballot order, which is randomized several times before the final listing.

"We have someone pick a number out of a hat," he said. "It's like a double-randomization process."

The Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill, which will advance to the full Senate for consideration.


Twitter: @bjaminwood