Alexandria Prepares for Unprecedented November Ballot
On the Nov. 6 ballot, Alexandrians will see party affiliations for national seats, but not for City Council and mayor.
The ballot for the Nov. 6 election is as special for what is listed on it as what is not—party affiliations for Alexandria’s City Council and mayoral candidates.
While Alexandria’s lengthy ballot will show party affiliations for the national races, local races will not.
Additionally, thanks to the state draw selecting party order on the ballot, in Alexandria, Republicans will be listed first, followed by Democrats and then Libertarians.
“I think it’s great to be on top,” said Alexandria Republican City Committee Chairman Tom Fulton. “It’s a two-page ballot front and back. It’s going to be hard to get voters to fully understand all of the ballot and to get them to remember to flip it over. They have to remember there are 12 choices and they can select six city [council] candidates. … I don’t know if there’s such a thing as ballot fatigue, but that might be the case here. … Having the three Republicans on the top of the ballot is to our advantage.”
But Dak Hardwick, chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, says it doesn't matter if the Democratic candidates were listed first, second or even last. “We'd still be doing all the things we are already doing—talking to voters, knocking on doors, having debates and asking citizens for their vote.”
He also noted that because the Republicans don’t have a candidate in the mayoral race, Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill Euille will be listed first, followed by independent mayoral candidate Andrew Macdonald.
Both local Republican and Democratic volunteers will be at every polling station handing out sample ballots marking their party’s candidates.
Sample ballots this election will be more important than ever to their respective parties, said Anna Leider, deputy voting registrar for the City of Alexandria. The city’s Voter Office is using paper ballots rather than the recently introduced electronic system because the state requires a paper trail, but also because there was concern that this time around technology could actually be a voter’s foe.
This unprecedented combined ballot—the local elections previously have been held in the spring—is so long that officials worried that voters would “get lost” navigating the electronic ballot, especially if they decided to skip a question and wanted to return to it later.
There will be no “key” on the ballot alerting voters to the order of party listings. However, there will be a space between each set of party candidates, demarking for a voter a difference between groupings.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, writes in a blog post "Who's on First?" that there is an advantage to being listed first on the ballot, although less so for those names in high visibility offices where voters have probably already made their decision.
Additionally, the "first-listing bias" can be helpful to minority candidates and independents who gain the top ballot position. However, there's some evidence that in a long listing of candidates for political office, being listed last can be almost as good as being first as a voter skips over the middle of a large, multi-candidate field.
Alexandrians will be asked to choose six candidates on the ballot for City Council.
John Chapman, the first Democrat listed on the ballot after the group of three Republicans, told Patch that he is pleased to be at the top of the list, but the issue of consistency where there are only some party affiliations listed is a real problem and could be confusing for voters.
“The ballot is so long and no party affiliation for partisan races—that’s a problem,” he said. “It could hurt Democrats.”
He believes legislation in Richmond to allow certain local races to show party affiliation might be the answer. “They are so far behind the times,” he said.
Krupicka said before he’d consider introducing legislation mandating party affiliation on a ballot for local government, “I'd want to talk to a lot of local leaders first. There are still a number of places that have non-partisan local elections, so party affiliation doesn't work in those cases. Our school board, for example, is non-partisan.
“There may be some confusion about party labels in November, but the parties will have sample ballots that help clear up any confusion,” he said. “I think order on the ballot matters a little, but not a lot.”
He said members of Council, including himself, who voted in favor of moving this election to the fall wanted more residents participating in local civic life and wanted to make inclusion in the election process easier.