Prime ballot positions
“In one out of ten elections, the
candidate listed first won just because he was listed first.”
—Yuval Salant—assistant professor of managerial
economics & decision sciences at Kellogg
It is well known by professional politicians that some voters don't
have an idea who the candidates are, or what policies any of them
favour, so they tend to vote for the first name on a ballot.
results of research in the importance of being first on the ballot
Getting your name listed first on the ballot gives a candidate a big
edge because as many as 10% of all elections are won by candidates
solely because they were placed first on the ballot.
In Canadian and English elections, candidates are listed by
alphabetical order. In other countries, the order on the ballot is
determined by a lottery.
In Australia, the divisional returning officer declares the final
nominations and conducts a draw for the ballot paper with the
candidates and TV camera watching the lottery.
For this election, "Bullet Train for Australia Party" candidate Andrew
Lamont was featured at the top of the ballot paper.
Games are played
In Britain and Canada, games are played to either get yourself placed
in the first position on the ballot or to deny that position to your
opponent. Here are three examples.
Private Eye magazine—No. 1370
Politics is so unfair sometimes. Take the hand dealt to Aktaruz Zaman,
would-be councillor for east London’s St. Peter’s ward.
In the 22 May 2014 council election Mr. Zaman came out fourth out of 14
candidates. So near but so far!
If only his surname had not begun with a Z. There is a belief among
some candidates that the lower down the ballot paper your name appears,
the fewer votes you receive.
Determined not to be a Z-lister all his life, Mr. Zaman stood for
council again last week, in a by-election in the Blackwall ward. This
time however, in a field of 20, his name appeared second on the ballot
paper. How did he achieve this new-found prominence? Simply by removing
the space between his first and second names!
In the 03 July by-election his name appeared as “Mohammed
Aktaruzzaman”—catapulting him almost to the top of the paper, below
only a candidate named Ahmed.
Alas, the wheeze did not improve his electability, as he ended up
coming in ninth. Back to the drawing board!
Peel North 1971
The popular Minister of Education, William Davis just became Premier of
Ontario when he called a provincial election. Historically, his given
name, William always appeared on the ballot.
The NDP ran a young candidate named Neil Davis against William Davis.
By rights, he should have been placed first on the ballot. However,
Elections Ontario was persuaded to allow William Davis to use his nick
name "Bill" so he would be placed first on the ballot.
The elections results were:
I remember a municipal election in Mississauga in the 1970s. A woman
had her mother register as a candidate using someone else's name so the
"ghost" candidate would appear first on the ballot.
The daughter hoped that the "idiot vote" would draw support away from
her opponent. However, the jig was up when the two of them were criminally charged
with election fraud.