Sun 19 Sep 2010
This article analyzes the chances of Lisa Murkowski’s write-in candidacy in Alaska. Though I don’t really care about that election, other than harboring a vast well of distrust for hereditary power-holders from noble families, the interesting part is the analysis of how valuable actually being listed on the ballot really is:
Suppose you accept the argument that, were Ms. Murkowski running as a conventional independent candidate, with her name listed on the ballot, she would stand a decent chance of winning a three-way race. How much of a penalty might she suffer from the fact that she is not in fact named on the ballot, and that she must instead count on voters to write her name in?
This is particularly interesting, since he indicates (well, not that we all didn’t know this anyway) that not being listed on the ballot is a major penalty beyond that of not being associated with a major party. If this is the case, and it obviously is, why do we have printed ballots at all? If it was a serious enough issue to convince 4 of 9 Supreme Court justices that having too much money in an election could unfairly damage our democracy even in the face of what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle in the first amendment, why do we let this easily solved problem persist? It seems like it would save some money too, since every ballot would always look the same: one line to put your candidate’s name.
If just having your name printed on a ballot provides such a massive advantage, why don’t we ban the practice? Have everyone be a write in. If our voting preferences are swayed by money, it seems they are also swayed by which names we see before us, denying voters from expressing their true preferences, unbiased by printed paper. Plus, people are always complaining that the electorate isn’t educated enough — now we would have surefire way of reducing the influence of those ignorant chumps who couldn’t even be bothered to learn the names of the candidates, because as Mr. Silver points out, write-ins that can’t be deciphered get dismissed:
And regardless of the tenor of her campaign, any win by Ms. Murkowski is liable to be ugly in a procedural sense. If the result between Ms. Murkowski and her two opponents is at all close, litigation is likely to result. Although minor misspellings will count for Ms. Murkowski, how about a ballot cast for “Liza Murklusky”? Or one where the voter spells her name properly, but does not fill out the oval to indicate they have made a write-in choice?
Banned pre-printed candidate names seems like a win-win — well, except for people with hard-to-spell last names. While we’re at it, why not ban listing party affiliation as well? If you can’t even identify your party’s candidate is, then how can we trust you to know if they would be good at doing the job you’re electing them for?