Although the Hastings District Council has traditionally listed candidates' names in alphabetical order on voting forms, for this year's byelection and the 2019 local elections, it chose a random system of name placement.
Voting papers to elect a new mayor and Havelock North/Hastings ward councillor were delivered last week, with the order of the candidates' names differing from one voting paper to another.
The council was asked to make a decision on whether to retain the alphabetical system in July this year, in preparation for the 2019 local authority election, and any intervening byelections.
Electoral officer Jackie Evans said that before the Local Electoral Act 2001, candidates' names were required to be listed on the voting documents in alphabetical order of surname.
A subsequent regulation to the Act, however, allowed councils to decide on the arrangement of the names, either by alphabetical order, a pseudo-random order, or a random order, she said.
Under a pseudo-random order arrangement, the candidates' surnames would be determined by a draw, with candidates' names placed on all voting documents in the same order they were drawn.
Choosing a random order meant candidates' surnames were shown in a different order on every voting document, and this was the one recommended to this council.
"Technological developments for the printing of ballot papers has greatly improved for the production of random order voting papers .... and recent research on voting patterns has also indicated that candidates with a surname starting at the top end of the alphabet may have a slight advantage over others with a lower alphabetical ranking," Ms Evans said.
She said that among the 118 territorial authorities, district health boards and licensing trusts in the 2016 election, 55 used random order, 54 alphabetical and nine pseudo-random.
In last year's local government elections, Hastings District Council used an alphabetical system, as did the Hawke's Bay Regional Council, the Central Hawke's Bay District Council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board.
The Napier City council took a random listing approach.
When presented with the option in July, councillors voted seven to five in favour of adopting the random order.
Councillor Geraldine Travers was one of those who voted against randomisation, despite it being to her advantage having a surname that started with a letter near the end of the alphabet.
"We were told that names at the top of the page are advantaged but I thought that people would go looking for the name(s) they intend voting for and would look alphabetically.
"Either way I am comfortable as I am sure people are clever enough to work it out."
Councillor Malcolm Dixon voted for randomisation after it was explained that every voting paper would be different, he said.
"Why should those whose surnames starting with A have a possible advantage over those whose surnames start with a Z?"
Councillor Ann Redstone said she also voted for random listings as she believed some voters just ticked the top or bottom box.
"I'm not sure what percentage may do that but there is a psychology that goes along with the top-listed person being number one, and conversely the bottom one being seen as the underdog. I think it's much fairer this way."
Mayoral candidate and acting mayor Sandra Hazlehurst also supported a random order of names when the vote took place, based on the advice of the electoral officer.
"Most other councils in New Zealand are random as it's fairer than being alphabetical."
She, along with other mayoral candidates able to be contacted yesterday said she did not feel the decision was any disadvantage to her election chances.
Bayden Barber, whose name would have appeared at the top of the list under the old system, agreed, although he said he did raise some concerns at the time of the vote.
"I was a bit apprehensive about changing it as people were familiar with the alphabetised system, especially the elderly, and it needed to be communicated to people that this change had happened."
Candidates Simon Nixon and Stuart Perry both thought the random order system was more fair than an alphabetical one.
As of yesterday, 10,851 or 19.53 per cent of the total potential votes had been received by the Hastings District Council. Voting closes at noon on November 24.