Political observers have long perceived getting the top line on the ballot as an Election Day advantage. So no one should blame Republican Party leaders in the state for filing a lawsuit to gain access to that spot for their candidates in the November election. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill seems to think her opinion, giving the fellow members of her Democratic Party the coveted spot, should be the end of the matter. But the law governing the decision is unclear. In such instances it makes sense to move the matter out of the political realm and into the courts.
The law states that "the party whose candidate for governor polled the highest number of votes in the last-preceding election" gets the top position. Since a Democrat, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, won the 2010 election that would seem to settle the matter, but it doesn't. On the Democratic line Gov. Malloy received fewer votes than Republican Tom Foley, 540,970 to Mr. Foley's 560,874. Gov. Malloy won election, however, because he was also the nominee of the Working Families Party. Listed twice on the ballot, he received 26,308 votes on the WFP line.
Republicans argue that their candidate polled the highest number of votes as a Republican, while as a Democrat Malloy finished second, and so the GOP should get the top line. Ms. Merrill ruled otherwise. Gov. Malloy is a Democrat, he received the most votes, so his party gets top billing, she concluded.
The language needs clarification in the next legislative session. But in the meantime there is an election.
A 2010 study Yuval Salant, assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at Kellogg School of Management in Illinois and Marc Meredith, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that having the top line can add up to 5 percentage points. The study examined California council and school board elections.
The researchers speculated that ballot placement provides a much bigger advantage in local elections, when candidates are little known, than it does in major races, such as for governor, Senate or president. Ironically, Connecticut Republicans failed to challenge their ballot placement in the 2011 local elections, when the first line may have helped Republican candidates more.