Candidates who run for office all like to have their names listed first on the ballot.
So Idaho taxpayers spend thousands of dollars every election to print up lots of different versions of the ballot, each with the candidates’ names in a different order. Kootenai County Clerk Dan English doesn’t think that makes much sense.
So he, the statewide county clerks’ association, and the Secretary of State’s office are proposing legislation to do away with the rotation in favor of a random order.
“The rotation system is not a perfect system,” English said.
It’s nearly impossible to guarantee that every candidate will be listed first on an equal number of ballots. And aside from the time and money involved with printing up different versions of the ballot, the process creates lots more chances for errors.
Ben Ysursa, chief deputy secretary of state, said studies go both ways on whether being first really makes a difference. About 22 states still do the rotation, but more and more are dropping it. Oregon quit in 1994, and “they didn’t hear a whimper,” Ysursa said.
Utah just lists candidates’ names alphabetically.
In November’s Coeur d’Alene city election, five different ballots were printed to allow for name rotation.
Now that Kootenai County is switching to optically scanned ballots, the rotation will become even more expensive, English said.
And voters long have complained that the sample ballots they see before the election don’t match what they see in the polling booths.
“It’s expensive, it leads to some voter confusion, and the possibility of error is greatly increased,” Ysursa said.
But all that doesn’t mean the change is an easy sell in the Legislature. Last year, the House State Affairs Committee refused even to consider the change.
This year, with urging from English and the clerks’ association, the committee agreed to introduce the bill. But some members are unconvinced.
“I think the current system is OK,” said Rep. Tom Dorr, R-Post Falls. “Is the current system the most efficient way? No. Is ours the most efficient form of government? No.”
“I just think that the current system, even with its inefficiencies, is OK.”
English, who’s run successfully for school board and city council, said he figures the lawmakers who object do so because “voting is such a basic, fundamental issue that we need to be very careful in changing the process.”
Said Ysursa, “I think it boils down to pure status quo: We got elected under this system, why change it?”
He said he’d even be willing to add a clause to the bill to make it a one-year experiment. “If democracy and the republic are still standing, then we’ll keep it.”
“We think it’s a good bill,” he said.