Answer Man: Ballots shuffle the deck for candidates
Dear Answer Man, I observed something odd on election day in Rochester last month. When I voted, I noticed that the names on the ballot were not in alphabetical order, which seems like the most logical and neutral way to list them. I mentioned this to my husband, who happens to work in the building of another polling place. He went to look at the ballots at that location, and those ballots did have the names listed alphabetically. Could you investigate this for me? — A.N.
City Clerk Judy Scherr says multiple versions of the ballot were printed and distributed, so none of the four candidates for council president got the edge. The rules are different for ballots for state and federal office. According to the Secretary of State's office, "Major partisan candidates are listed in reverse order of their average vote in the last election. Minor party partisan candidates are listed by lot. The nonpartisan candidates list is randomly determined by statutory formula, and rotated according to the Candidate Rotation Algorithm found in Minnesota Rules 8220.0825, Subp. 3 ."
I took the bait and checked out that Candidate Rotation Algorithm in the rule book. As far as it goes, it's an interesting experiment in democracy, and I absolutely love the name, but here's the starting point for the algorithm: "The base rotation must be determined by assigning the initial order of the candidates' names by lot."
So it's all determined by luck to begin with! Which just goes to show, you can engineer the most sublimely beautiful system in the world and it all depends, at some point, on dumb luck.
Most political insiders agree, by the way, that if your name is at the top of the ballot, you have a tiny but measurable advantage — maybe no more than 1 to 2 percent, depending on many variables, including dumb luck, but measurable.