New Jersey's independent, Springsteen-loving gubernatorial candidate, Chris Dagget, is on a roll. He's finally getting solid attention from the Manhattan television markets, he's getting major endorsements, and one of his opponents is making fun of another for being fat. But Daggett faces a ballot problem. Not ballot access itself ... he's on the ballot ... It's ballot design.
In New Jersey, the ballot features the Democratic and Republican candidates first -- the order depends on a coin toss -- and the independent candidates, second. Pointing to political science literature on ballot order, Daggett claims that the placement of independent candidates below the major party candidates is plainly unconstitutional. The science isn't as clear cut: ballot order does, in certain low-information races, seem to influence voter decisions, but it competes with numerous other exogenous factors for a voter's attention in the polling booth. One is whether the candidate has been effective, or not. Ballot order effects are more prevalent when the "top" candidates listed have run good campaigns than they are when first candidates stink up the joint. Daggett has a point in claiming that ballot order effects hurt independent candidates more than major party candidates. But partisan labels on ballots also influence whether ballot order will be salient. So does the design of the ballot, regardless of order. So does the number of other candidates who are running -- a total of 12, in this election.