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Should candidates be alphabetical on the ballot screen in Georgia?

By   /   January 11, 2010  /   Comments

Chris McFadden, a candidate for an open seat on the Court of Appeals of Georgia, is arguing in support of proposed legislation that would change the way candidates are listed on Georgia ballots. The proposed legislation, which McFadden drafted, would rotate the order in which candidates are listed on electronic voting machines. Under current law, they are listed alphabetically.

“Almost every day, and usually several times a day,” reported McFadden, “I’m told I should change my name to Adams or Aardvark.”

McFadden was speaking at the midyear meeting of the State Bar of Georgia to its Committee on the Judiciary, of which he is a long-time member.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), also a member of the bar committee, spoke in support of the proposed legislation and announced that that she will introduce it.

“Dozens of people have recounted to me the story of a race for an open seat on the Supreme Court in the 1980s,” reported McFadden. “The candidate generally considered least qualified was first alphabetically and first on the ballot. While the other candidates campaigned vigorously, he went on vacation. And he won.” McFadden provided the committee with summaries of numerous studies confirming that the ballot position advantage is real.

McFadden has been an appellate lawyer for more than twenty years and is first author of Georgia Appellate Practice, a reference book published by the West Group, the nation’s leading law book publisher.

In 2008 ,McFadden placed fourth in a field of seven candidates vying to succeed retiring Judge Jack Ruffin on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

“After the 2008 election, a lawyer I hardly knew, who wishes to remain anonymous, approached me and offered his analysis of the election results,” reported McFadden. “His written report argues that the deciding factors in the 2008 Court of Appeals election were ballot position and perceived race.”

According to the report, an advantage of approximately 20 percentage points was divided between the first two candidates on the ballot: the eventual winner, now-Judge Sara Doyle, and Tamela Adkins, who placed third, directly ahead of McFadden.

Adkins, who is white, performed best in counties with large African-American populations. (The candidate who placed second, Mike Sheffield, had run in 2004 and was backed by religious conservative interest groups.) Adkins, who had never argued in the Georgia appellate courts prior to the 2008 election, “used to hire me when she had appellate matters,” said McFadden. “She told me last month that she plans to run again in 2010, this time using her middle name, Lynn.”

The ideal way to construct ballots, McFadden explained, would be to randomly determine the order in which candidates are listed on each ballot. But even on electronic voting machines, randomizing the order turns out to be technically impractical.

The proposed legislation would accommodate that technical impracticality by adopting the less-perfect solution of rotating the order from ballot to ballot. The proposal would accommodate the financial impracticality of rotating printed ballots by adopting the even less-perfect solution of rotating only the electronic ballots.

The proposal would mitigate that second compromise by selecting the order in which candidates are listed by lot, rather than listing them alphabetically.

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