Connecticut should fix its unfair ballot-position picking system

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I suppose that congratulations are in order to fringe candidate Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente on ‘winning’ a random drawing for the top ballot position in the Democratic primary for president taking place on April 26. It is a stroke of luck which will perhaps net the California businessman a few hundred additional votes due to a phenomenon social scientists refer to as the “primacy effect” or “serial position effect.”

Researchers have found that appearing first on the ballot can give a candidate a 1 to 3 percent boost, even more in some downballot races with large fields. (Appearing last can also help — being in the middle of a large list of candidates is the most unfavorable position.)

Rocky has met all the statutory requirements for appearing on the ballot and seems like a decent person, but he does not deserve this unearned advantage. Neither does Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or any other candidate.

The random selection of ballot order for the presidential primary is an improvement on state elections where ballot position is determined by which gubernatorial candidate received more votes in the previous election, a system that has proven confusing and controversial in Connecticut because of cross-endorsements of major-party candidates by minor parties.

Litigation was brought successfully by Connecticut Republicans after the 2010 election in which Gov. Dan Malloy received more votes than challenger Tom Foley overall, but fewer on the Democratic party line than Foley received on the Republican party line. Subsequently Democrats in Hartford changed state law regarding ballot position to — surprise! — benefit themselves.

Clearly a random drawing is superior to a system that is like giving the winner of the NBA Championship the top pick in the next year’s draft. But an even better and more fair system than randomly selecting a statewide ballot order would be for ballot order to be randomized across voting districts, with each candidate appearing first on approximately the same number of ballots.

This is the practice in Ohio and many other jurisdictions, and would eliminate the unearned advantage some candidates get due to their ballot position.

It may seem like a trivial change, but no reform is too small or unimportant if it gives people more confidence in the fairness and impartiality of our democratic system.

Aaron Goode lives in New Haven

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