2016-10-13 / Front Page

Glitch Appears in Newport Ballot

By Olga Enger

The Newport ballot has been printed, but there is an irregularity.

The candidates are listed alphabetically on the ballot, yet the City Charter (§ 3-5, “Ballot Order”) dictates the order will be determined by a lottery system.

“None of the board members are happy about this. It was a mistake. It’s unfortunate. We have had a temporary clerk in there, after [former Canvassing Clerk Rick] O’Neill left,” said David Roderick, chair of the Newport Canvassing Authority. The authority is charged with the lottery and candidates must be notified 24 hours before the names are selected, according to the charter.

Under the direction of the State Board of Elections, the Canvassing Authority oversees the complete electoral process, from voter registration to tallying the votes after the polls close. The canvassing clerk, as an employee of the city, works closely with the authority to ensure that elections run smoothly.

There are approximately 14,000 registered voters in Newport.

“There was a mistake made by the clerk and the Board of Canvassers, and it certainly wasn’t intentional,” said Newport Solicitor Christopher Behan.

In the 2014 election, Newport voters granted City Council the option of combining the duties of the canvassing clerk and the city clerk. However, when O’Neill retired in October 2015, council decided to hire a temporary canvassing clerk to vet the concept. At that time, Roderick expressed concerns about losing “full knowledge” of the election process.

“We have now hired a new clerk. It was determined that we do, in fact, need that full-time role,” said Roderick.

The Canvassing Authority is made up of three individuals appointed by the council. Donato D’Andrea and Maxine Shavers are currently serving, in addition to Roderick. Two alternate positions are vacant.

Options to correct the ballot are limited. Late Wednesday afternoon, Newport officials scheduled an “emergency meeting” for Thursday at 2 p.m. to discuss “the unexpected occurrence that required immediate action to protect the public.”

“The ballots have already gone out to our seniors and military residents,” said Roderick.

Political experts tend to agree ballot order may impact election results. Numerous academic studies on “ballot order effects” or “first-listing bias” have found candidates who are listed first on the ballot tend to receive more votes. In fact, researchers found that being listed first increases a candidate’s likelihood of winning office by about five percentage points, according to a long-term study conducted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“Being listed in the median ballot position, on the other hand, reduces the likelihood of winning office by 2.5 percentage points,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “On the Causes and Consequences of Ballot Order Effects.”

The ballot order may also benefit the last-listed when there are numerous candidates, according to the Center for Politics. On this year’s ballot, Newport voters will select seven out of 12 candidates running for School Committee, with incumbents Rebecca Bolan listed first and Kathleen Silvia listed last.

“I’d rather be first than last, but I’m fine with it. I’d rather be last than buried in the middle,” said Silvia.

“It’s interesting because the lottery is usually held in August, and I was wondering why it hadn’t occurred,” said Bolan, who has served on the School Committee for eight years. She added that in Newport, name recognition is critical to winning a race.

“As a new candidate, I was under the impression that there would be a lottery,” said School Committee challenger Adrienne Clemente Haylor, who is listed seventh on the ballot. “I feel it is unfair to all the candidates, as they didn’t have the same consideration as with a lottery.”

Newport voters will also be asked to select four out of six candidates for at-large seats on City Council. Newcomer Jamie Bova is listed first.

“I’m still knocking on doors, just trying to get my name out there,” said Bova. “Part of my platform is clarifying processes, so this is the kind of thing that should be looked at.”

Kimberly Shute appears on the ballot as a seventh at-large contender, but she withdrew from the race after qualifying.

In the city wards, only the First Ward has a challenger, with Susan Taylor hoping to prevail over incumbent Marco Camacho.

When asked if losing candidates could question the election results due to the error in name placements, Behan was skeptical.

“There is probably no remedy, as long as there isn’t any type of fraud and people weren’t misled or confused or otherwise hindered in their ability to vote,” said the solicitor. “In this case, the ballot order does not cause confusion, it doesn’t mislead voters, and there was no intention to defraud. People can look at that ballot and it wouldn’t prevent them from exercising their right to vote.”

Ballot order hit the news during the primaries when former Rep. Linda Finn, D-Middletown, failed to get the state Democratic Party endorsement in the race for House District 72, despite receiving local endorsements by the Middletown and Portsmouth Democratic committees. One of the concerns raised by Finn was the preferential listing of endorsed candidates, as they are first on the ballot. In her case, however, ballot placement did not stop her from defeating her opponent, James Cawley, by a large margin.

In neighboring Middletown and Portsmouth, ballot order is also determined by lottery.

“It is an informal process. We usually just pull the names out of a hat,” said Portsmouth Registrar of Voters Jacqueline Schulz. Portsmouth, unlike Newport, has partisan races for local elections.

“The party order is determined by the state lottery system. Within the parties, candidate names are ordered by the lottery,” said Schulz. The state holds a lottery to determine ballot placement for recognized political parties and independent candidates in July.

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