New London ballot lottery draws interest from candidates

New London — Candidates running for office in the upcoming municipal election would like to think that a connection with voters and hard work on the campaign trail are the keys to success in November.

But a little luck can’t hurt.

It’s the reason there were more than one set of eyes watching the names being tacked to a bulletin board inside the council chambers of City Hall on Tuesday as the city’s registrars of voters conducted a random drawing to determine placement on the voting ballot.

National studies conducted on the subject tend to side with the anecdotal evidence locally — that ballot placement does matter.

“It’s huge,” said Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Martha Marx, one of the handful of observers at the lottery.

Marx watched Democratic Registrar Bill Giesing pull small strips of paper from a Dixie cup, announce the candidate’s name and pin it to the board. She relayed the information by phone to candidates and on more than one occasion frowned.

Tuesday’s lottery determined the horizontal order of names as they will appear on the election ballot. The first spot is coveted unless that person is positioned above or below a popular candidate from another party. Placement on the ballot without a neighbor on an adjoining line might be just as good as the first spot.

The thinking is that some of the voters coming into the ballot box will see the names lined up vertically as head-to-head matchups, despite the fact a voter can pick seven council and seven board of education candidates of their choosing.

“If you look at the last election, the highest vote-getters are the people who have no one underneath them,” Marx said.

Strategies to choose which candidate or party appears first under each office varies by state, as do ballot structures. In Connecticut, it is determined by the number of votes cast for governor.

Since Connecticut has a Democratic governor, Democratic incumbent Mayor Michael Passero automatically appears ahead of Republican challenger Marty Olsen, followed by Green Party mayoral candidate Frida Berrigan. The same is true for the council and school board races — Democrats, followed by Republican, Working Families and Green Party candidates.

“People’s ballot position is a large influence on what their chances are of getting into office,” argues Ronna Stuller, the New London Green Party chairwoman and a City Council candidate

“Some people are noting that when there’s no one under them in the column, there are some voters that think you have to vote one from each column even though it says vote for any seven. It’s a misconception,” Stuller said.

Stuller further argues that names appears in multiple places on the ballot when they are cross-endorsed - further muddying the water on what can be a confusing ballot.

Democratic council candidate James Burke agreed there is some importance to ballot placement.

Based on lottery results Tuesday, Burke’s name will appear on line 3a and 3c, above and below Republican candidate Alexis Major. It’s a less desirable position than the three Democratic candidates without names underneath them.

Burke is cross-endorsed by the Working Families Party.

“Unfortunately, some voters think you can’t vote for two candidates in the same column,” Burke said.

Regardless, Burke said he is relying more on his outreach and connection with voters than on where his name appears. Burke is a member of New London’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, works as a manager at Fiddleheads Food Co-op and is a sound engineer at the Garde Arts Center with a daughter starting preschool.

Burke served as campaign manager for Anthony Nolan during the February special election. He lives with his daughter on Prospect Street.

“I’m getting great feedback from my constituents. Once the voters meet me, I’ll earn their support,” he said.

In the Board of Education race, top vote-getter Jason Catala, a Democrat, is situated first in the Democratic row above Rob Pero, one of two Republican school board candidates. Two former candidates, Tommie Major and Frank Homets, have dropped out of the race.

Pero, the Republican registrar of voters and a popular former City Council member, shrugged off the notion that his placement might influence votes. He was not involved in Tuesday’s lottery.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t put much stock in where my name is. To me it’s just about how hard you work and how your message resonates with the voters,” Pero said. “They’ll find you.”

More of an impact is the number of registered Democrats versus Republicans.

“I’m outnumbered in terms of registered voters. I obviously have to appeal to a broad base of voters,” Pero said.

Pero said he’s running for school board in an attempt to “right the ship,” to have a hand at influencing policy in the district and address pressing concerns.

Pero, from his seat in the registrar’s office, said he’s seen school board candidates who outworked their opponents despite “awful” ballot positioning — examples being Green Party member Mirna Martinez and Working Families Party candidate Alisha Blake.

“Some of this has to do with whether or not voters want to cross the (party) line,” Pero said.

g.smith@theday.com

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