News / In Depth

Sample Ballots/Voter Pamphlets (Also) List Council Incumbent O'Donnell's Candidate Statement First In Mainly High Voter Turnout Eastern Parts of District, Reversed w/ Supernaw First In District's Western Areas


(May 17, 2012) -- has learned that under a City Council-authorized, City Clerk-implemented ballot rotation system -- whose Council-stated intention was to "enhance the integrity and fairness of our local elections" -- in addition to Council incumbent Patrick O'Donnell's name appearing first on ballots in historically higher turnout eastern parts of the 4th Council district, his candidate statement (telling voters why they should vote for him) also appears first in sample ballot pamphlets being sent to all registered voters in mainly eastern parts of the district (green areas below). The order is reversed in the western parts of the district, where challenger Daryl Supernaw's statement is printed first and will appear first on the ballot.

The City Council implemented the ballot rotation in response to a 2011 Council agendized item (Johnson, Andrews, Neal) which cited an analysis by Stanford University researchers of election data over a nine year period indicating that on average, City Council and School Board candidates listed first were 5.6% more likely to win as a result of their ballot position. "This is significant enough to change the outcome in future elections and make future representatives the result of chance, not merit," the Councilmembers wrote. A Council Committee hearing was held in 2011 and in a final enacting vote (second of two) on April 3, 2012, the Council directed a ballot rotation system as a pilot project for the June 2012 election cycle.

In the April 10, 2012 election, candidate Daryl Supernaw finished first despite being listed second on the ballot and waging a grassroots, low budget campaign. Incumbent Councilman Patrick O'Donnell (running a write-in campaign seeking a third term) finished second (entitling him to listed on the June ballot). O'Donnell's candidacy was supported by an independent expenditure campaign funded by labor interests and LB's Police and Firefighter unions. John Watkins, who finished third, was listed first on the ballot and supported by an independent expenditure campaign by the LB "Jobs PAC" [fiscally and legally separate from, but with some individuals associated with, the LB Area Chamber of Commerce].

Although Mr. Supernaw received a more favorable ballot listing position in the random draw by the CA Secretary of State's office (for the June runoff), the City Clerk's office was still required to implement the Council-directed ballot rotation system. The City Clerk's office says it asked to the City's Technology Services Dept. to create the voter clusters (numerically balanced) for the rotation system. It produced the two clusters reflected on the map above. The City Clerk's office then implemented the clusters by assigning Mr. Supernaw the top spot on ballots in the western end of the district and gave incumbent O'Donnell the top spot in most of the eastern sections.

[The City Council's ballot rotation was silent (didn't require) that the precincts be contiguous; it said the opposite: that the precincts need not be contiguous (leaving open the the possibility of non-contiguous, "checkerboard" style clusters)].

The net result is: voters in the greenish marked eastern areas of the 4th Council district have received sample ballots with incumbent O'Donnell's candidate statement first as well as ballots listing O'Donnell's name first, while voters in the brownish marked areas receive sample ballots with Supernaw's candidate statement first and listed first on their voting ballots.

The candidate who prevails in 4th Council district June runoff will have a vote on development, spending and policy issues affecting every Council district and impacting residents and taxpayers citywide.

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