It Isn’t Just Hanging Chads…

Americans are slowly becoming aware of the ways in which partisan redistricting and vote suppression are torpedoing the democratic ideal of “one person, one vote.” In the absence of something egregious like Florida’s “hanging chads,” however, we are still less likely to recognize the partisan effects of ballot design.

A recent article from the Washington Post focused on that issue.

It’s a political truism: The candidate whose name appears first on the ballot has an advantage over the competitors listed below. That’s not just folklore — numerous studies around the country have shown that candidates who are listed first receive more votes. The advantage is so marked that in Illinois, one of several states where ballot position is based on the order of filing, candidates wait in line overnight to gain the top spot.

I can attest to the accuracy of those studies. When I first became politically active (back in the Ice Age), Indiana awarded ballot positions alphabetically. A gentleman who had changed his name to Aaocker was a perennial candidate for a number of offices. He always ran in Republican primaries (back then, Marion County was solidly Republican), where turnout was lower, and he could be counted on to skim some 2000 votes from the others on the ballot.

I’ve lost track of Indiana’s current approach to ballot placement–I leave it to a reader to enlighten us–but ballot order is a state decision, and it varies widely from state to state. In November, a federal court blocked a ballot order law in Florida; that law automatically gave the top position in every race to the candidate of the last-elected governor’s party.

As a result of that law, Republican candidates have been listed first in every race on every ballot in the state for the last two decades. In 2016, Donald Trump’s name appeared before Hillary Clinton’s. In 2018, Ron DeSantis was listed above Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial race, and Rick Scott was listed above Bill Nelson in the election for U.S. Senate.

The court found that first place on the ballot was worth five percentage points, and noted that Trump had defeated Clinton by just over one percentage point, that DeSantis won by four-tenths of a point, and Scott beat Nelson by just one-tenth of a point.

Florida Republicans are appealing the decision.

As the article points out, if the appeal is successful, we will face a situation not unlike redistricting; just as states manipulate district lines to advance partisan interests, states will approach ballot design from a similarly partisan perspective.

Without any judicial check, changing election rules for partisan advantage will become a tool for both parties. For example, the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia could provide that Democratic candidates are listed first and Republican candidates are listed third. New Jersey could pass a law allowing Democratic candidates to be listed first with their party affiliation but limiting all other candidates to an alphabetical order without any party identification. New York could retain straight-ticket voting for Democrats but not for Republicans. Massachusetts could allow longer voting hours for registered Democrats than Republicans.

The fact that voters go to the polls so unprepared that they vote for the first name on a ballot’s list is depressing. When good government organizations urge people to vote, they are really encouraging them to cast an informed vote. But–as in so many areas of contemporary life–there’s a wide gap between the real and the ideal.

Allowing partisans to use that gap to undermine the choices of voters who are informed is cheating. But good sportsmanship is so last century….


  1. Wow, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! SMH, this sounds like one of Larry’s cuttysark inspired stories, lol, just kidding Larry. My head hurts from reading this, and I don’t think it’s from the Jack.

    Before anyone can expect the playing field to be level, so to speak, the rules need to be tweaked on the side of fairness.

    The sad thing about it all is, even if a solution was found, and somehow was implemented, as soon as the opportunity arises, there will be those who would undo any good that has been accomplished.

    IDK, maybe a bipartisan commission that would prevent changes to fairness laws after they’ve been approved and enacted/implemented. To prevent partisan or political shenanigans, each party would have an equal number of members. That way no majority of affiliation.

    And also, maybe the commission should be impervious to random politically-motivated judicial, executive, or legislative assaults on its authority and findings under its purview.

    Since the kids find it so hard to play nice, there has to be a playground monitor to keep an eye on things.

  2. Two January broadcasts of Democracy explained how Cambridge Analytica used targeted ads to influence votes in 2016 election, and practice psyops around the world, with data harvested from Facebook. “Democracy For Sale”: Cambridge Analytica & Big Tech’s History of Manipulating Elections” First Episode: Second Episode:

  3. Two January broadcasts of Democracy explained how Cambridge Analytica used targeted ads to influence votes in the 2016 election, and practice psyops around the world, with data harvested from Facebook. “Democracy For Sale”: Cambridge Analytica & Big Tech’s History of Manipulating Elections” First Episode: Second Episode:

  4. In their efforts to gain control of the government of the United States the Republican Party has destroyed the very essential idea of fair elections needed to have a democracy. Of course, what they do not appreciate is the fact that so few Americans now trust their government that they have stripped themselves of the very power they so desperately sought to retain. All that is left for them to do is to institute a dictatorship which they are in the process of doing as we sip our coffee this morning.
    Hard to encourage others to vote when everywhere one looks one sees corruption and a rigged system.

  5. Here’s another little gem few of you know about. Down here in Florida, if there is no opposition from one party, whoever wins the primary wins the office and isn’t even on the November ballot. The Republicans will run sham candidates on the Democratic side to keep Dems from having any say on who gets elected. The sham candidates don’t actually run a campaign and since the Republicans pay their filing fees, they don’t pay anything out of pocket. Neat, just like John’s Jack.

  6. Isn’t it interesting that ever since the brown man was elected President, the Republicans, aka the Kochians, the Mercerans, the Scaifs, et. al., party have been spending (by now) billions to bribe candidates, foster “think” tanks in universities and otherwise squelching votes everywhere they can. These actions follow the 1971 Powell manifesto and are the basis for the fear-based philosophy of the “Tea Party”, they hysteria against all things liberal; they mean it to be “socialistic” and therefore evil.

    The problem is based on racism fostered by the rich, white fascists who felt obliged to take over the country. When they discovered how MUCH hate and racism there was among the middle classes, and how little the poor voted, they married the evils of socialism to Obama – or vice-versa – and the Democrats.

    And the Democrats started running around like scalded cats not realizing that they were being attacked and destroyed by some of the worst sorts of people this country has ever produced. I think Democrats are finally coming around to the fact that we have a bar fight on our hands, and that the knuckles must be bared (Thanks, Bernie and Elizabeth). Since the Republicans have NO agenda that governs the least of us, and only the 1%, they are compelled to resort to their evil, illegal and dastardly flaunting of obscene wealth to do …. what? Create more wealth for the few at the expense of the many.

    On this premise, revolutions are based.

  7. I’m pretty sure that Indiana still has alphabetical listings in primaries and I think that the winner of the County Clerk gets their party listed first in the general election. Votes for Secretary of State get a political party recognized (2% to be recognized, 10% to have a primary election).

    I remember days of partisans finding people with similar names to run in elections to dilute the vote (John Smith on the ballot, we will add a John B. Smith or a John Smyth).

    “Without any judicial check, changing election rules for partisan advantage will become a tool for both parties. For example, the newly elected Democratic majority in Virginia could provide that Democratic candidates are listed first and Republican candidates are listed third.”

    Never – Democrats always bring knives to gun fights. When Tom DeLay engineered the re-redistricting in Texas (Republicans squeaked out a win, so they gerrymandered the districts to death to make certain they always won – so what if there had already been a decennial redistricting, they did it again). Democrats could have replied in kind, but they were “too pure” to stoop to such tactics.

    I had wanted Illinois to either create the “dumbbell” district to put the top two Republicans (Henry Hyde and Dennis Hastert) in the same district, or the “squid” to add two tentacles to some Chicago Democratic district to grab those two. The Democrats should have said “OK, DeLay, we see your redistricting and raise you” — but they never would.

    Both sides gerrymander, but Republicans have elevated it to a voter suppression science that is 100 times more effective. Paper gerrymandering was bad; computerized, big-data gerrymandering is evil by comparison.

    Ballot placement is difficult, but I vaguely remember somewhere where names were randomly assigned to a ballot position. I think that would be better, but a real scramble, like they use in computerized multiple choice tests, where each voter sees a different order would be best. Of course, candidates could no longer say “vote for #19 John Smith” so people would have to remember a name, not relying on a ballot number.

  8. 2016 was, way more than any election before it, a plebiscite between two concepts, strong and weak government. Capable and incapable. Independent and pliable. How it came down to that is the topic of a great deal of speculation. The outcome however was predictable.

    It was an easy choice for those with large stakes in manipulating the country. Putin. Mercer. Kochs. Brannon. Limbaugh. Murdoch. LaPierre. McConnell. Adelson. The Chamber of Commerce. Lastly and least, Trump.

    They never even had to meet to conspire about such an opportunity. The benefit to all of them was just completely obvious. They behaved as expected. Oligarchs International. Predators on parade.

    In the world we had evolved to where advertising/fake news/propaganda/brainwashing had become king, we the people were surprised and overwhelmed. Shocked and awed.

    Water over the dam and under the bridge. We got nuked. End of that story line.

    Will it repeat in 20/20?

    It’s too late to fix anyone now especially we the collective people. The stakes are whether to face the now not only inevitable but immediate transition to sustainable human civilization with leadership or leave it to chaos?

    How will you be counted by history?

  9. So if you add the distortion of “order of listing” to Gerrymandering to hanging chads to vote suppression to obsolete machinery to obsolete processes to Russian interference to Facebook and social media encouragement of any ploy that brings in advertising revenue to voter ignorance of the issues to indiscriminate lying about the issues to ad hominem appeals to FBI distortions about candidates to mendacious (FOX) TV to Citizens United perversions to Koch and ALEC tinkering to ideological ossification of many voters’ minds to secretaries of states’ vote manipulation to Julian Assange to the absurdity of the electoral college to candidates seeking foreign assistance , how does this add up to a reasonably fair election? Is democracy so flawed that it stands little chance of producing a fair election result? Where does that leave us? How would you even begin to clean up such a thoroughly corrupted institution as the American election process?

  10. Vernon,

    I’m doing this from my phone so I hope it makes sense.

    Anyway, as I recall, it wasn’t that long ago, LOL, everyone of the liberal-leaning squawking heads were talking about the demise of the Republican party. That it was going to be no more. And then, enter our current POTUS and his demolition crew.

    These news services actually did a huge disservice to the electoral process. They made it seem like, no one needed to show up because the Republicans were done, fork sticking in them and all.

    As gomer Pyle used to say, surprise, surprise, surprise!

    The Republicans don’t need an agenda, they just lie about it, and poach democratic ideas as their own until they’ve achieved their purpose and then unapologetically, flip the bird to everyone that believed them in the first place.

    Now, everyone knows that I share different views about religion. But if you would ever want to see the definition of evil, the scriptural description of evil is sitting in the oval office right now. He is a murderer, a liar, a thief, a covetor, and idolater, an adulterer, a cheater, a murmur (one that sows dissension), a slanderer, and, well you get the point!

    For those minions of his that claimed he has anointed, are not only guilty of the POTUS sins by association, they also sinned against holy Spirit which is an unforgivable sin. now, evangelicals should know that, but obviously they don’t believe in their own beliefs. And that means, they have no hope for redemption, they are not once saved always saved, their die has been cast, and it has been found lacking. The only unforgivable sin brought out in scripture, and they have continuously worshipped at its altar. They practice the idolatry of sin and evil, because, that’s what it is, what they are doing is evil, and they purposefully follow a course working against scripture, hence unforgivable sin.

    But whether you believe in scripture or not, those who are not believers, those who don’t believe in scripture or are unaware of scripture, are not held to the unforgivable sin standard yet. Because those folks have to be enlightened and accept or reject God’s word in a way that is known to everyone.

    By scripture, evangelicals have committed gross unforgivable sin, they reproach God’s word and that’s a sin against holy Spirit.

    The current POTUS, calls himself the chosen one, and many of his minions the same. They have no hope for redemption, they should know better.

    One thing we can praise our current POTUS for, and, he’s said it himself, promises made, promises kept..

    He promised he was going to drain the swamp, and he did! He drained the swamp directly into government! He’s done so on an epic scale, kind of like during a flood when the sewage is shooting up through your basement drains. Your pumps can’t keep up because the volume is so astounding.

    The constant bombardment of all of these things current POTUS is practicing, keeps good folks off balance, always on the defense.

    He might not be an offensive genius, but he stays on offense, he knows where he’s going and where he wants to go, and that gives an offense a great advantage.

    So then the defense has to be completely overwhelming, it has to look like it’s coming from everywhere, it has to disrupt and confuse the offense, only then can it be successful.

  11. As we become less and less democratic, I wonder why our military budget gets larger and larger?

    What are they seeking to obtain or destroy, Gen. Butler? They’re not spreading our flawed democracy worldwide.

    Voting for the Oligarchy is to maintain the aristocracy they’ve created. “Win at any cost!”

    Theresa writes, “Hard to encourage others to vote when everywhere one looks one sees the corruption and a rigged system.”

    And, most of the corruption is NOT seen. Our mayor, after five years, the FBI found one $5,000 kickback. He’s been in office for eight years and one bribe. LOL

    It is our systems and institutions that are corrupted. Einstein told us this in the 1940s. All else is propaganda.

    I’ve been watching a $42 MIL public financed project being led in my community from our two local nonprofit anchor institutions who designated themselves, self-appointed city managers. How is this any less corrupt than when politicians steal from the taxpayers? An Oligarchic trust partially funds Their organization.

    Pretty slick, huh?

    What about our local Gannett owned media?


    So, how do we get an informed populace when those responsible are now public relations firms – propaganda?

  12. Pete,

    Boom shakalaka!

    You called it out Pete, no doubt about it. Very insightful and very well put.

    By the way Pete, I accidentally consumed the rounds I was saving for you and Larry, LOL. ?

    Oh and just one final caveat, alcohol is not evil, overindulgence should be avoided, that would be considered gluttony, LOL. but if alcohol was evil, then why did Jesus Christ turn water into wine at a wedding? I enjoy having a drink or two with good friends, I used to like to partake with my brother’s also. Man, do I miss them.

  13. This might not be kosher, but…
    Today, I’m loaning my post space to an anonymous individual. In other words, I’m posting his or her message to you. Here it is in it’s entirety…

    Y’all know me and some might recognize me, but if I lend my name to this, it would only make it appear personal. I don’t want that. I want it to be more general, universal, you might say.

    I am a power broker at the national level. I want you to know that I do not worry about my party winning or losing seats in Congress. Go ahead and win your little majority, or win your filibuster busting majority; it won’t affect me for long.

    Understand: I don’t have to buy (or scare or blackmail) all 535 members of Congress; I need only buy a little over half of the margin of majority.

    Maybe a more accurate word than buy is “acquire”.

    Anyway, doing that–buy or acquire–is so much cheaper than financing campaigns and political action committees. Say the margin of majority your hard work achieves is a whopping 100; I only need to buy 51 in order to get my way on all the issues that come up after I render my moneys. If it takes a million dollars for each of my, uh, acquisitions, I consider $51 million cheap.

    And I am pleased to see that y’all are still frothing at the mouth to make elections fair and to get out the vote. Say you get it done; fine with me. I’ll acquire your majority margin before the first fiscal quarter ends, probably sooner. And as long as you’re obsessed with fair elections and voter turnout, you won’t be figuring out how to stop me from acquiring your precious little ol’ majority margin at fire sale prices.

    Frankly, I sort of know how y’all could stop all the fun I’m having, but just to play the odds, that little secret ought to stay secret for a while longer.

    Not that I’m scared of what y’all might do with that little silver bullet. No sir, I am quite sure, you’d put it on a shelf somewhere in an honored position, maybe lock it up in a safe and label it dangerous. And then you’d go right on back to the business of fair elections and voter turnout, right where I want you.

    I am so pleased with your robust Pep Rally inclinations that I will donate all the little blue cheerleader costumes, megaphones, and pom-poms you’all would like. Send me a total and an address to ship them to. This a goodwill gesture from me to y’all.

    Happy politicking.

  14. Larry, nicely played!

    The upcoming transition to sustainable will not spare based on wealth unlike the past and present. Other measures of power will emerge some of which we might not even be aware of yet so limited is our experience with scarcity.

    We’ve collectively chosen chaos now to guide us through the death of what we know and the rebirth of what must be. I wish that I had seats for the show as it will be a time of great learning.

  15. Larry, I agree with Pete, nicely played.

    This doesn’t sound like the cutty talking, LOL so, it goes to show the level of corrupt and purposeful intent, not ignorant but willful intent. I’m happy for this individual flaunting his wealth, or her wealth, and not a worry in the world, or almost no worry in the world for any sort of penalty for these clandestine shenanigans.

    It just sheds a little more light on the criminality that is so pervasive around government. Citizens united was just a trojan horse, it bought all of the swamp dwellers a first class ticket to Washington.

    In my opinion, Siberia would be too good for an individual like this, I’d have him spending his life cleaning manure piles out of barns and stables with no equipment.

  16. Two ballots would be used.
    The independent candidate would be first on both then followed by a Democrat Republican last ballot or a Republican Democrat last.
    The problem comes in counting the ballots, the ballots would first need to be separated into two groups before counting

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