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Names on Langley Township ballots will be alphabetical

Councillor Charlie Fox made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the municipal ballot should be arranged so the shortest names go first. - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
Councillor Charlie Fox made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the municipal ballot should be arranged so the shortest names go first.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

Langley Township voters will be voting using ballots that list mayoralty and council candidates in alphabetical order this year, marking an end to the practice of randomly ordering names.

The decision was made at the Monday, May 26 meeting of council.

It came in response to a report by chief electoral officer Bob Wilson that voters were complaining it was hard to find the names of candidates during the last election in 2011, when people had to select 14 names from 41 candidates for mayor, councillor and school trustee.

The Township began holding a lottery to randomly select ballot name order in 1993.

Most B.C. municipalities appear to use alphabetical order, the Wilson report said.

Councillor Grant Ward said the switch could be unfair to candidates like himself, who are “at the end of the alphabet.”

Councillor Bob Long said there is evidence to suggest “there is a skew if you go alphabetically.”

Councillor Charlie Fox made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the ballot should place people with the shortest names first.

“Nice try,” Mayor Jack Froese said.

When the matter came to a vote, the majority voted for the switch to alphabetical ordering, with only Councillors David Davis and Long opposed. (Councillor Kim Richter was away).

Ward said he joined the rest of council in voting for an alphabetical order because the matter was “not a big issue” for him.

Ward also said that he felt he has enough name recognition that the new policy won’t hurt him.

The change won’t affect candidates for school trustee, who will still appear in a random order determined by drawing lots, unless the Langley Board of Education votes to make the switch to alphabetical listings.

A number of scientific studies have suggested there is a “ballot order effect” that favours people listed at the top.

A 2013 review of California municipal elections by University of Pennsylvania Department of Political Science professor Marc Meredith with Yuval Salant called “On the Causes and Consequences of Ballot-Order Effects” concluded there is a measurable advantage.

“Candidates listed first [on a ballot] win office between four and five percentage points more often than expected absent other effects,” the study concluded.

The Meredith-Salant paper also shows only the very first name on a ballot appears to benefit.

“We found that candidates listed second perform worse than candidates listed first and that candidates listed third perform relatively similar to candidates listed second,” the report said.

Langley City lists candidates for mayor and council alphabetically, but candidates for the  board of education are arranged randomly.

The 2014 municipal vote for mayor, council and school trustee positions will be held on Nov. 15, a Saturday, at various locations throughout the Township.

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