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Election success tends to start at the top

Municipalities use different ways to list candidates on election ballots

These days there is a science to almost everything – including how the outcome of an election can be influenced by the order of names on the ballot.

It's not really a breakthrough idea.

Consider searching in the Yellow Pages – it’s been documented that people tend to go with the first name they see in that heading whether it’s AAA Towing or Aardvark Consulting.

That mentality supports a recent U.S. study that found candidates listed first on an election ballot get about two per cent more votes on average that they would have, had they been listed further down the list.

The order of names on the civic election ballots is established into municipal bylaw, so the rule can vary community to community.

Trail and Montrose use the local government “default,” which specifies that the order of names appear alphabetically by surname.

The process is a little different in Fruitvale, after council established an election bylaw this year that orders the names be listed “by lot,” or by a draw.

Sera Wilcox, Fruitvale's chief election officer, invited all candidates to the village office at 4 p.m. Oct. 17, which was the municipality's established deadline for withdrawal of candidates.

“I prepare all the candidates names and place them into a 'hat,'” she explained. “Once everyone, who has indicated they would be present arrives, I asked one of the candidates to pull a name from the hat and the names are recorded according to the order they are pulled.”

That is the order the names will appear on the ballot, she noted, and also the order they appear on our Notice of Election advertisement.

Warfield also determines the order of the candidates names on the ballots by lot, said the village CEO Allana Ferro.

The procedure bylaw includes informing the candidates of the time and place of the draw, she explained, and the names are typed onto separate pieces of paper of same size and  colour.

“Then the pieces of paper are folded in the same uniform manner and place in a container (mayors then councillors),” Ferro explained.

Someone other than the candidates draws the papers one at a time, she added.

Another aspect that can affect election outcomes is the number of spoiled ballots – which happens when voters tick too many boxes, or doesn't tick a box at all.

For example, if a certain council only has four seats open but six candidates up for the position, and the elector inadvertently marks more than four boxes – when the CEO and poll clerks tally the ballots after 8 p.m. on general voting day – the vote will be spoiled.

This is no longer an issue in Trail although one source recalled that over 70 ballots were spoiled in the last election when two people were running for mayor – and that many voters chose two mayors for one position.

The city now uses an automated voting system, so when the ballot is placed through the terminal by the elector, the machine immediately recognizes that the person over-voted.

“It would return the ballot rather than feeding it into the ballot box,” said Michelle McIsaac, Trail's CEO. “In this way, the voter would have opportunity to mark a new ballot.”

Another feature to automated voting is that the ballot is consolidated onto one page.

“Prior to automation we had separate ballots for each race,” McIsaac noted. “Back then, if an elector over-voted, it would n't be discovered until the ballots were being manually counted at the close of polls.”

All other local municipalities still conduct the voting stations the old fashioned way – with pencil in hand.

Notably, there is a detailed accounting process of each ballot to ensure no vote is missed or overlooked by the human tally-ers.

If a ballot has been obviously spoiled at the time of the vote, such as a smiley face drawn on it, then the elector can ask for another ballot from the poll clerk, said Wilcox.

“We would issue another ballot to the elector, mark that another ballot was issued to that specific elector in the voting sign-in book,” she explained. “Then place the ballot into an envelope.”

Other reasons for rejecting a ballot is if nothing is marked, or if the ballot physically differs from the ballots provided.

The number of spoiled ballots are recorded onto the ballot account statement, and the number of ballots received must equal the number of ballots rejected, spoiled, giver to voters and unused.

Sheri Regnier

About the Author: Sheri Regnier

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