A proposal making its way through the legislature will change the order in which political candidates' names appear on the ballot in Hawaii, one of just seven states that still list candidates alphabetically.
Studies have shown that the order candidates are listed on the ballot can affect close elections, especially primaries with potentially long lists of candidates.
"The first candidate tends to get a small bump, maybe two percent," said UH Manoa Political Science Professor Colin Moore. "Some people have estimated as much as five percent than the candidates farther down the list. And that's because voters tend not to have fully formed opinions about these candidates in primary elections," Moore said, so they tend to just choose from the first few names they see at the top of the ticket.
House Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads wants to change Hawaii's alphabetical listing of candidates to be different each election cycle, when a letter would be drawn at random to determine the new alphabetical order. For instance, if J was the letter chosen, then the new alphabetical order would be J through Z and then A through I, so J would be the new A, will all other letters following in order.
"It seemed to me that something that would make it more fair would be a good thing. And we're one of only seven states now that put ours on alphabetically for that very reason," said Rhoads. "At least it's completely random. It will be different every cycle. And you might still get A on the top of the list but it would be random as opposed to every single time it will be A."
Under Hawaii's traditional method, the crowded 1st Congressional Democratic primary ballot will most likely appear with Councilmember Ikaika Anderson first because his last name starts with an A.
But using our example of J as the first letter, state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim would become the first candidate listed on the ballot in that race, with the rest of the Democrats in alphabetical order after that: Joey Manahan, Mark Takai, Kathryn Xian, Ikaika Anderson, Stanley Chang and Will Espero.
Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said his office can handle the change.
"This is not something that's new or hasn't been done in other jurisdictions, so the vendor is able to do this," Nago said.
Nago said the state would need to warn and educate voters that their ballots would no longer be in traditional alphabetical order, to avoid voter confusion.
"Let people know that there is a change to the way that the candidates appear, the way the candidates appear on the ballot," Nago said.
"Here in Hawaii, a lot of our elections, because the Democratic Party is so dominant, tend to be decided in the primary, so this is pretty important for us," said Moore, the political science professor, an expert on American elections.
The proposal is being seen by some people at the State Capitol as hurting incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie, since his last name has always put him at the top of the list.
"My guess is there will be some people who are saying 'This is an anti-Abercrombie bill and therefore we're not going to do it.' On the other hand, some people may say 'This is an anti-Abercrombie bill and therefore we should do it,'" Rhoads said.
Rhoads, who introduced the proposal in the 2013 legislature and again this year, said he voted for Abercrombie in both the primary and the general elections in 2010 and the measure is not aimed at hurting Abercrombie. He said it's about fairness.
An Abercrombie campaign spokesman declined to comment on the proposal.
The state House approved the bill and it's now awaiting approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a full vote by the Senate.
If approved by lawmakers and the governor, the measure would go into effect this year, in time for the Aug. 9 primary election.
California rotates alphabetical order in statewide races for every district, so that Other states list incumbent candidates first, while others list the political party that got the most votes in the last presidential election first, while some list candidates from the party that garnered the fewest votes in the previous president election at the top of the ballot.
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