In a move that means Democrats wouldn’t automatically be listed first on 2018 ballots, the N.C. House approved a plan Tuesday night that would create a more random order for names on ballots.
House Bill 496 calls for candidate names to appear in either alphabetical order or reverse alphabetical order. The State Board of Elections would flip a coin after each candidate filing period to determine which of those two options would apply to the next election.
Current North Carolina law dictates that candidates in the governor’s political party are listed first on general election ballots. In 2016, that meant that Republicans were listed first. Now that Democrat Roy Cooper is governor, Democrats are set to be listed first on 2018 general election ballots.
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Numerous studies have shown that being listed first on a ballot can give a candidate a slight advantage, particularly in down-ballot races where voters are less likely to be familiar with the candidates.
The proposal to switch to an alphabetical-order ballot is titled “Fair and Nonpartisan Ballot Placement.”
“I think this is the fairest system that we could come up with,” said Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “You would not have all the members of one party always listed first on the ballot.”
The bill passed the House in an 83-35 vote, with many Democrats voting no, although none spoke against the legislation. It now goes to the Senate.
On Wednesday, the N.C. Democratic Party blasted the proposal. “Republicans are cynically, and disingenuously, adopting the mantle of ‘good government’ only now that the existing law no longer benefits them politically,” party spokesman Mike Gwin said in an email. “House Bill 496 is just another in a growing list of examples of how the NC GOP is trying to rig the system in their favor – from partisan gerrymandering, to seizing control of election boards and cutting early voting hours – at the expense of open and fair elections in North Carolina.”
Republican legislators also tweaked ballot order laws last year when they expanded the partisan ballot order to include the N.C. Court of Appeals – meaning that Republican candidates for the appeals court were listed first on the November ballot. All of them won, including the son of Senate leader Phil Berger.