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Lottery for Position on Primary Election Ballot Friday

The District of Columbia Board of Elections (DCBOE) will conduct a public lottery on Friday, April 12, to determine the order in which candidate names will appear on the June 4, 2024 Primary Election ballot.

Yep, according to DC Code, candidate ballot order is pulled out of a hat. Which seems kind of fun!

Well, it’s not a hat, DCBOE clarifies. They describe it as “a ceramic container, kind of like a planter.” But it’s patriotically decorated in an American Flag motif.

Why a lottery? The Election Lab at the Massachussets Institute for Technology (MIT) says that the order in which candidates appear on the ballot can influence election outcomes. That means different laws states use to govern ballot order have the potential to advantage some candidates over others.

Concern over the advantage presumably conveyed by “ballot-order effects” has led some states to require names to be randomly listed on the ballot,” the MIT Election Lab says on its website.

Many other states use a lottery, including Pennsylvania [the Hill Rag could not find a full list].

The patriotic container used by DCBOE in the ballot position lottery. Courtesy: DCBOE

Various methods are used in other jurisdictions. Some states list candidates alphabetically or in the order of paperwork filed to run. In other places, the first candidate is often the incumbent, or the candidate from the party with the most votes the last time a governor was elected. The representatives of the two major political parties sometimes go at top.

In DC, the latter three of these (whichever election is substituted for “governor”) would likely privilege the Democratic candidate and especially an incumbent.

Some studies have shown there is an advantage to being on the top of the list. For instance, a study by Marc Meredith and Yuval Salant of city council and school board elections in California found that candidates listed first win between four and five percent more than they might be expected to if they were listed later on the ballot.

But when MIT looked at the research they found it inclusive. “Some scholars have found that being listed first on the ballot translates into an electoral advantage,” they wrote, “while others have found little or no evidence of a relationship between where a candidate appears on the ballot and the final election results.”

DC plays it safe –and fun, often bringing the candidates over to participate in the process. According to DC Regulations, the name of each candidate will be typed on paper and drawn out of a hat –or anyway, an official container. Then each candidate, or a designated representative, will pull one slip of paper. The names are listed on the ballot in the order they are pulled.

This year, it’s happening online and the candidates aren’t attending. In their stead members of the voter services team will actually pull the names from the planter. DC BOE says between 80 and 85 election full time workers toil behind the scenes in an election year.

And yes, a simillar lottery is scheduled to happen on Sept. 13 to set the ballot for the Nov. 8th General Election.

You can watch or listen to the lottery for the June 4 Primary Election ballot starting at 10:30 a.m. Friday by using the following information:

Via Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/89823054295?pwd=rPjrbwNYzgZNrjK0hCWyAxrsKipwMC.1

Phone: 1-301-715-8592 US (Washington DC)

  • Meeting ID: 898 2305 4295
  • Passcode: 022506

Learn more about the upcoming elections and voting at www.dcboe.org

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