Conventional wisdom holds that candidates listed first on an election ballot may gain some measure of advantage from this ballot placement. This belief is shared by courts, which have relied on it to change election outcomes. For example, the 2001 mayoral election results in Compton, California were recently overturned and the losing incumbent mayor was (temporarily) reinstated because of a supposed failure by the city clerk properly to randomize the candidate names on the ballot. The trial court—eventually overruled—believed that permitting a single candidate to be first necessarily gives that candidate an advantage. How much proof of this “ballot order effect” should be necessary before courts hold that failure to randomize and rotate the names of candidates on the ballot to neutralize the effect denies candidates (or voters) some measure of equal protection of the laws? And how should courts balance the concern over the ballot order effect against other interests, such as the costs and potential confusion associated with rotation and randomization? Is there enough proof of the effect for courts to order a change in the outcome of an election by reason of a failure to rotate or randomize?
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