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Some Texas Political Leaders Could Be Manipulating Elections, According To Study

The so-called “ballot order effect” could give some candidates an advantage in primary races. And new research indicates party leaders in Texas might be exploiting that possibility.

When Economics Professor Dr. Darren Grant set out to study the ballot order effect in Texas, he discovered something he expected, and something he didn’t expect. What Grant expected to find was that the candidate listed first on the ballot would have an advantage.

“This effect is quite large in some of the down-ballot races that don’t always get as much attention from people. In those elections, I find that being listed first on the ballot gives you an advantage of ten percentage points or so, compared to being listed second on the ballot,” said Grant, Assocate Professor of Economics at Sam Houston State University.

In Texas, the Democratic and Republican Party chairs in each county are in charge of randomly drawing the names and placing them on the primary ballot. So Grant was surprised by his second discovery.

“It seems that ballot order is not determined randomly across all the counties in Texas for all the different types of elections,” Grant said.

Statistically in statewide races with two candidates, Candidate A should be listed first about 50 percent of the time and Candidate B should be listed first about 50 percent of the time. There’s some room for slight deviations. But Grant found that in some races, for example the 2014 Democratic Primary run-off race for U.S. Senate between David Alameel and Kesha Rogers, the order of names on the ballots was not random at all.

“I found that David Alameel was listed first on the ballot almost three-quarters of the time, and Rogers was listed first on the ballot almost one-quarter of the time, just a little more than one-quarter of the time,” Grant said.

Grant’s research didn’t draw any conclusions on whether the order of the candidates affected the outcome of this specific race. He also found some anomalies on Republican primary ballots, but the deviations weren’t as large. That led him to conclude that in some races, in some counties, party leaders are manipulating the order of names on the ballot. And he says that, coupled with the boost in votes that can come from the ballot order effect, should prompt state officials to more closely scrutinize primary ballots.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

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Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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