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How many candidates are too many?

The Rivard Report brings up a point I hadn’t considered before.

Candidates or their representatives arrived at City Council chambers Monday morning to draw lots to determine the order of name placement on the ballot. As candidates waited in the audience, the room seemed to be filled with equal parts anticipation and dread. It doesn’t matter much if you are first, second or even third in a three-person race. Three our four names fit easily enough on a single screen of a voting machine.

But there are 14 people running for mayor, and in an informal street poll I conducted downtown Monday, I was unable to find a single person who could name six candidates. Quite a few people named three, several named four, a few named five and none could name six. Four of the candidates are running visible campaigns with yard signs, frequent public appearances, organized block walking events and participating in public forums.

But what about voters who won’t recognize the names of Ivy R. Taylor, Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte or Tommy Adkisson? The four frontrunners are seasoned officeholders who have run multiple campaigns and appeared on multiple ballots. But they face 10 other candidates, some of whom have filed for office before but none of whom have much name recognition or a record of holding elective office. I’m talking about Paul Martinez, Douglas Emmett, Michael “Commander” Idrogo, Raymond Zavala, Rhett Rosenquest Smith, Julie Iris “MamaBexar” Oldham, Cynthia Cavazos, Gerard Ponce, Pogo Mochello Reese, and Cynthia Brehm.

The voting machines are going to have as hard a time as the voters with the mayor’s race. There is simply no way to list all 14 names on a single computer screen, and I wonder if even two screens will prove sufficient. It’s even more of a challenge when two of the candidates feature “Commander” and “MamaBexar,” nicknames that have to be listed.

If you are a candidate listed on the second screen, you have to wonder: How many people will think the contest is only between the candidates listed on the first screen and cast their vote before they get to the next screen? The computer allows a voter to reverse a decision and also prompts a voter to review his or her choices before pressing “VOTE,” but that’s small comfort to a second page candidate.

Here’s the Bexar County Elections webapge on their voting system. The video didn’t load for me, and the ES&S Flash Demonstration links are broken, but the picture at the bottom gives some idea of what they use. Here in Houston, we’ve not had a 14-candidate race in recent years that I can recall – there were 19 candidates in the January 1995 special election for Council At Large #4 – but we did have ten for At Large #2 in 2011 and twelve for District D in 2013. I’m pretty sure that Harris County’s eSlate machines were able to list everyone on a single page. At least, I don’t recall hearing anything about the candidate list spanning multiple pages. If San Antonio is like Houston, then Mayor will be the first race on the ballot. If the voting machines in Bexar County really can’t fit 14 names onto one page, then that seems like a serious flaw with them. Is this a real concern? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

This is also an opportunity for me to bring up one of my favorite hobbyhorses, which is that the draw for ballot position is ridiculous. I still can’t understand why an electronic voting machine system can’t be programmed to randomize ballot order for each race with multiple candidates and each voter. I’m sure it would take a change to state law to allow that – or better yet, require it – and I know that there would still need to be a draw for candidate order on mail ballots, but still. This seems like such a simple fix to a problem that vexes people in every single non-partisan election. Can we please do something about it?

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One Comment

  1. Brad M. says:

    Randomized order would be a welcome improvement.

    Can’t believe James Galvan-Partsch hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring yet!