Friday, August 18, 2006

Court Rules GOP Ballot Primacy Unconstitutional

Well, this could be interesting.

The Concord Monitor:
The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the organization of the state's election ballots violates the New Hampshire Constitution. In a unanimous decision, the judges struck down a law that rewards the winning party in one election by listing the party's candidates first on the next ballot - a provision that has kept the Republicans atop the ticket for 40 years.
The new form the ballots will take is to be decided by superior court.

Responses to this decision vary from downplaying its significance (that would be Republicans, as spoken for by Wayne Semprini, state party chair), to freaking out (Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who will have to implement the new system once it's decided on), to, well...
"Oh, glory hallelujah," said state Sen. Peter Burling, a Cornish Democrat and former House minority leader. "We finally have justice; we finally have fairness."
It's not at all clear what this means for 2006. Not only have new rules not been established, but despite downplaying the effect a change will have in the long run, the Nashua Telegraph reports that some Republicans are arguing it shouldn't be implemented until 2007:

Senate President Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, predicted the ruling would cause major voter confusion and should not be applied to the 2006 election. Putting it off would give lawmakers time during the 2007 session to create a ballot that complies with the ruling, Gatsas said.

“Turmoil for the primary and general election ballot will result otherwise,” Gatsas said. “I predict it’s going to take a massive bunch of money to do this the way the court wants it.”
However, no one else was quoted arguing for this and it does appear likely that something will be changed by November's elections, if not by the primaries in three and a half weeks.

So why and how could this be significant? Well, it turns out that being at the top of the ballot produces a "primacy effect," meaning it can garner some extra votes, as a political scientist from Stanford University hired by the Democrats found and as even the state admits:

The state did not contest that effect. Secretary of State Bill Gardner has said that the candidates at the top of the ballot can gain as much as a 6-to-10-point edge in certain races, such as House campaigns with a dozen candidates.

Instead, the state argued that placing the winning party first -and listing candidates in alphabetical order - was a practical way to produce a logical and easily understood ballot. In essence, the state contended that the system might not have been perfect, but it wasn't unconstitutional.

That's genius. No, it's not fair, yes, it could perpetuate essential one-party rule, but hey, it's easy for us to implement. And Bill Gardner is going on about the difficulties of implementing a new system as if it's the end of the world, as if no one ever before had to make a ballot that didn't always have the exact same party on top. (In fact, some are making such a big fuss over the implementation difficulties that the Keene Sentinel, running the article that the Nashua Telegraph titled "GOP's top ballot spot ruled unfair," retitled it "Ballot ruling may cost N.H. taxpayers." Yes, that's exactly the biggest news associated with this decision.)

This is very much a developing situation. It looks as though something will be changed for 2006 - but what, and what kind of effect it could have, remains in question. Should be interesting, could be good.


Blogger yankeedoodler said...

Great quote from Peter Burling (who, btw, is fighting hard to createa state senate majority this fall)!

This is great news; I almost lost my lunch the way the candidates were listed on previous ballots.

We may not have Diebold issues in my paper ballot area of the state, but the candidate listing system was wrong, wrong, wrong.

9:25 PM  

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