I wrote a post on October 18, 2011 about the primacy effect, primarily the legal basis for randomized election ordering in California:

    The order of candidates on ballots is determined by a random drawing done  by  the California Secretary of State’s Office.  The drawing  for the November elections statewide was done on August 18, 2011.  The drawing determines who goes first, by surname, which continues if people have similar surnames, like Reiter and Reid.

    Why does it matter?  It takes any politics out of the order of candidates.  Why does that matter?  Because of a phenomenon called the primacy effect or ballot order effect.  The Secretary of State’s website claims: this “procedure was established by legislation passed in 1975 in response to court rulings declaring that standard alphabetical order or incumbent-first was unconstitutional since there is a 5% positional bias among undecided voters.”  The ruling that the Secretary of State’s website is referring to is Gould v. Grubb (1975) 14 Cal.3d 661.  The court found that “incumbent-first” and alphabetical order violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution’s equal protection clause.


    The ballot order of the San Bernardino City Unified School District candidates was:

    Anna M. Cox

    Willard A. Hughes

    Margaret B. Hill

    Mike Gallo

    Lynda K. Savage

    Damon L. Alexander

    Elsa Valdez

    Juan M. Lopez

    Henry William Nickel

    Gil Navarro

    Dan Deane

    Teresa Parra

    Sharon “Bobbie” Perong

    The final results were:

    San Bernardino City Unif School Dist Gov Brd Mbr
    200/200 100.00%
    Vote Count Percent
    ANNA M. COX 1,825 4.05%
    WILLARD A. HUGHES 533 1.18%
    MARGARET B. HILL 6,671 14.79%
    MIKE GALLO 4,647 10.31%
    LYNDA K. SAVAGE 5,482 12.16%
    DAMON L. ALEXANDER 3,243 7.19%
    ELSA VALDEZ 3,079 6.83%
    JUAN M. LOPEZ 3,581 7.94%
    HENRY WILLIAM NICKEL 1,594 3.53%
    GIL NAVARRO 2,400 5.32%
    DAN DEANE 3,068 6.80%
    TERESA PARRA 4,218 9.35%
    SHARON ”BOBBIE” PERONG 4,751 10.54%
    Total 45,092 100.00%


    Anna Cox and Willard A. Hughes ran similar campaigns, with no advertising, and little campaigning.  Yet, because she was listed first on the ballot, Anna Cox received 1,825 votes to Willard A. Hughes’ 533 votes. That suggests that since she was first on the ballot, that gave her an edge in votes over Willard Hughes among undecided voters.

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