Leadoff spot on ballots cleans up in elections
Order of names can make a big difference
Greendale - For clerks across Milwaukee County, election time is like what the second week in April is to tax preparers: busy.
Suzette Emmer, deputy election administrator for the county, said elections involve a lot more than the voters who spend 15 minutes casting a vote at a local precinct realize.
"People just don't know what's involved, all the work and time that goes into producing an efficiently run Election Day," she said.
During elections, the clerk's office typically prepares and distributes the ballots and supplies, programs election equipment, works with municipalities on voter registration and training, and receives and tabulates unofficial election results.
At least it's not the fall. November elections typically see a much higher voter turnout. But spring can be busy, too.
It depends on what's happening on the ballots. Referendums and hotly contested mayoral races usually mean ordering a greater number of ballots.
Emmer said her office ordered hundreds of thousands of ballots for municipalities throughout Milwaukee County, and will later send the bill to cities, towns and villages.
No election administrator wants the notoriety that Palm Beach County in Florida received in the 2000 presidential election, when a confusing ballot design led thousands of people to vote for a candidate they didn't mean to select. In order to ensure that doesn't happen, the printing process is a meticulous one.
"It's very specialized scheme of names and arrows in exactly the right spot," Emmer said. "You can't go down the street to your local printer to print these."
There's a red and white Styrofoam top hat with blue ribbon at the Milwaukee County elections office. That hat, which Emmer said is like something out of "The Music Man," helps decide the order of candidates on the ballots.
"We make sure the names are all printed the same way, and each piece of paper is the same size and folded the same way," Emmer said. And with witnesses on hand, names are drawn.
It basically works the same way for the Greendale School Board race, said Kathleen Wied-Vincent. She's one of six candidates vying for three seats on the board, and the only candidate who watched the local lottery drawing.
Wied-Vincent took a break from pounding campaign signs into frozen lawns to watch the drawing that determined where her name would appear on the ballot.
"I was really excited," Wied-Vincent said. She wondered why the other candidates were not there. "How could anyone not want to know? It's like a birthday surprise."
Before the School Board president picked names, Wied-Vincent told the administrators in the room that she was crossing her fingers to be drawn second - two is her lucky number.
"There was no drum roll; it was very nonchalant," Wied-Vincent said. "They showed all the folded paper and the president picked them out." And to her delight, it was her name that was chosen.
"Two may be my lucky number, but today I'll take number one," she said.
According to research conducted by Stanford professor Jon Krosnick, Wied-Vincent was right to be excited.
Election ballots are like batting lineups, Olympic podiums and deli-service lines - order matters.
Krosnick's 2006 research shows that races around the country were decided by the simple fact that one candidate's name appeared above another's on the ballot. In 85 percent of the cases, the study - which examined Ohio voters - found candidates at the top of the ballot did better. He attributes the findings to uninformed and ambivalent voters.
"People sometimes walk into the voting booth feeling conflicted about their choice between candidates in a race, seeing advantages and disadvantages of multiple candidates," Krosnick said. "And in situations like that, we believe, voters sometimes just lean toward the first listed candidate, even if they feel like they're making an arbitrary choice between equally-appealing - or unappealing candidates."
To see the list of local candidates in ballot order, visit your local MyCommunityNOW.com website.
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