Alphabetical advantage


Do candidates whose names appear at or near the top of a ballot paper have an advantage over those lower down?

University of Otago political studies lecturer Associate Prof Janine Hayward, said research shows it does.

Prof Hayward advised that New Zealand and international studies confirmed a name-order effect, giving better results to candidates higher up in alphabetically ordered ballot papers.

The same effect, though to a lesser extent, would still occur in pseudo-random ballot papers, where candidates’ surnames were not listed alphabetically, but in the same order on each voting paper.

Dunedin City Councillors accepted this advice and voted to have names appear in a random order on ballot papers in this year’s local body election.

Voting is by postal ballot and voters also get to vote for the Otago Regional Council and Southern District Hospital Board.

People in Central Otago, Clutha  Queenstown Lakes and Waitaki Districts also vote for the regional council and health board and Southlanders vote for the health board too.

It could be confusing for people if they’re faced with some names ranked alphabetically for some entities and randomly for others.

But if random order is fairer then it would be better for all papers to rank them that way.

Voting papers in central government elections rank candidates in alphabetical order with their parties ranked beside them.

That means parties are almost always ranked randomly and since it’s the party vote which influences how many seats a party gets that’s probably fairer.




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