What's in a name? Alphabet order causes concern

By Alexandra Newlove

Mayor Sheryl Mai is in favour of a random order of candidates' names on each voting sheet to eliminate any potential bias.
Mayor Sheryl Mai is in favour of a random order of candidates' names on each voting sheet to eliminate any potential bias.

Election planning descended into alphabet soup during a debate on how to lay out voting papers ahead of October's triennial Local Government Elections.

Mayor Sheryl Mai said the tradition of laying out candidate lists in alphabetical order advantaged those with surnames in the first half of the alphabet, she told the first full Whangarei District Council meeting of the year.

She moved that a random order - where candidates' names were in a different sequence on each voting sheet - could eliminate said bias.

The mayor said she had done her own research confirming the trend across a number of councils. "If you look at the list of names of who got elected this election, we've got 13 out of 14 [councillors] in the first half of the alphabet. One in the second half. Well done Councillor Williamson," she joked.

The mayor said, while most voters chose carefully - "What we're trying to do is eliminate the bias with people who don't actively engage."

Cr John Williamson continued the playful discussion and said he too had consulted "Doctor Google" and found the phenomenon to be true, even in American elections.

"That troubled me, not because my name is at the end of the alphabet."

He said a random order was fairer and while it might make finding names more confusing, most voters were astute enough to "deliberate very carefully".

"I accept that fact that 'tick the last name first' may well have been lost as an election slogan," he said.

Cr Crichton Christie disagreed and was among those favouring alphabetisation, the system used in past elections.

He said the only times he'd been voted out of council was "when he deserved it", which had nothing to do with the alphabet.

Cr Sue Glen also objected to the idea that her name had anything to do with the fact she kept being elected. She said she would consider marrying someone with a surname starting with 'X' to prove the point.

"People vote because they see what people do - if they do good works or if they don't," she said. "Do we really want to say we're so dippy in here that we have to mix all the letters around just to see if you're awake? So you don't choose me by mistake? I can't agree with this. I think it's utter nonsense."

Only councillors Brian McLachlan, Williamson and Greg Innes supported the mayor in her bid for an indiscriminate order. The rest opted for the humble A - B - C.

Voting in this year's elections opens on September 16 and closes October 8. Candidate nominations are open from July 15 to August 12.

Each Northland voter can elect their respective district and regional councillors, along with seven members of Northland District Health Board.

- Northern Advocate

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 08 Dec 2016 00:07:13 Processing Time: 359ms