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Ballot order set for City Council election

Thursday, August 21, 2014 by Jo Clifton

The city took another step in the process toward having a 10-1 Council on Wednesday as City Clerk Jannette Goodall drew the names of each candidate to determine in what order they will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Conventional wisdom and a number of scholarly studies indicate that place on the ballot does make a difference, particularly in down ballot races with a large number of candidates.

According to Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, “There is an advantage to being listed first on the ballot,” but that advantage varies widely from one election to another. Sabato said, “There is some evidence that, in a long listing of candidates for particular office, being listed last is almost as good as being listed first.” He said the candidate listed first benefits more, but the candidate last on the list “does second best in this category.”

Thus Mary Krenek, a total unknown who started her campaign when she filed for office on Monday, may get a small boost when her name appears at the top of a list of candidates for mayor. Attorney Steve Adler, who has been running for the past eight months, may also get a slight advantage by being last on the mayoral-candidate list. Council Member Mike Martinez is No. 4, and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole is No. 6 on that list.

However, Peck Young, director of the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, said, “My experience has been, being first on the ballot does have some value and being last does also, especially when you have a dozen names” in one race.

Young added, “It doesn’t make any difference when there’s two or three candidates,” but it does if there are six or eight of them. “It also doesn’t make a difference if you’re not a serious candidate,” he said. So Krenek, in Young’s estimation, will not benefit much from being first on the ballot, but Adler might benefit from being last.

Sabato notes the most important principle governing what is called first-listing bias is the amount of information voters have about the candidates and the position of the office on the ballot. That might indicate voters will be less likely to pick a mayor based on his or her spot on the ballot, assuming the mayor’s race continues to generate more news and publicity than the 10 district offices.

But first-listed candidates in districts with large numbers of candidates — such as District 3, with 12 people vying for the seat — may benefit more from that ballot spot. Ricardo Turullois-Bonilla got the prime spot in District 3, and Julian Limon Fernandez is No. 12 on that list.

One of the better-known candidates, Susana Almanza, will appear 10th. Almanza was the only candidate who attended Wednesday’s drawing to speak to the crowd when her name was called. She bragged that she would be the first Mexican-American woman to serve in District 3. Her brother, Sabino ‘Pio’ Renteria, is No. 11 on the list.

According to a study from the University of Vermont, “The order in which names are listed on election ballots has a discernible effect on the vote share the candidates receive.”

Other first-listed candidates include George Hindman in District 1, Edward Reyes in District 2, Roberto Perez Jr. in District 4, Jason Denney in District 5, Jimmy Flannigan in District 6, Jeb Boyt in District 7, Ellen Troxclair in District 8, Erin McGann in District 9 and Matt Lamon in District 10. It is unlikely that McGann will get much benefit from being first, because most voters will be more familiar with the other two names on the list, Council members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley.

Political consultant Mark Nathan told the Monitor via email“Ballot order in the city races probably matters more in this election cycle than it ever has. We’re going to have a flood of new, low-information voters participating, and given especially that there is no party identification in the city races, there’s no denying that those candidates who were fortunate to draw the first place on the ballot in their race are almost certain to enjoy a little bit of a bump. Probably it will matter less in the mayor’s race, where we would expect that voters will probably have the most information. But in the district races, especially in races where there may be a half-dozen or more first-time candidates, all with relatively low name ID, my sense is that simply being the first candidate listed could potentially improve your tally by several percentage points. In some cases that may not be enough to make any difference, but if you are listed first and also happen to be one of the two or three leading candidates in a crowded race, it could conceivably mean the difference between getting into a run-off or not.”

Overall, being one of 10 or 12 names at the end of a long ballot means these candidates will have to work hard to distinguish themselves from one another. And maybe being first or last will have no impact at all. We won’t know until after the election.

For a list of all the candidates in ballot order, please check out the City Clerk’s website.

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