The State Board of Elections (SBE) met Wednesday to draw names to determine the order of candidates on the ballot for the June 8 Democratic primary elections.
Typically in Virginia, the ballot order is determined by when candidates turn in their signature petitions to the Department of Elections. But, due to COVID-19 protocols, candidates were allowed to submit their signature petitions simultaneously at noon on March 8 without fear of missing out on a chance at the top ballot spot.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jennifer Carroll Foy, Terry McAuliffe and Jennifer McClellan all submitted their signatures simultaneously, leaving it up to the SBE to determine the order. There were also five simultaneous lieutenant governor candidates and two attorney general candidates.
An official from the Department of Elections (DoE) drew names Wednesday to determine the order of the simultaneous candidates. The process was simple, they announced the name, displayed the paper with the name on it for the camera, placed the paper into a small container, then placed the small container into a larger bowl.
Eventually, after putting each name into the bowl, Saunders pulled former-Governor Terry McAuliffe’s name first. Then state Senator Jennifer McClellan’s name was drawn second and former-Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy’s third. Delegate Lee Carter and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax will also be on the ballot, but their signatures were submitted later than the first three candidates.
In the race for lieutenant governor, where name recognition is much lower than at the top of the ticket, securing the top spot on the ballot can be the extra boost for that candidate. There were five simultaneous Democratic candidates, with Del. Hala Ayala winning the top spot, Del. Sam Rasoul in second, Norfolk City Councilor Andria McClellan third, Del. Elizabeth Guzman fourth and activist Sean Perryman fifth. Del. Mark Levine, Paul Goldman and Xavier Warren will also be on the ballot.
In the attorney general race, both Democratic candidates simultaneously turned in their signatures. Del. Jay Jones will appear first with two-term incumbent Mark Herring in second.
McAuliffe, the statistical frontrunner for the nomination with nearly universal name ID in the state did not need the top spot on the ballot as much as the other candidates, so the positive impact will likely do very little for his campaign on primary day.
For the other two races, however, the potential impact of the ballot order is unclear. There is no clear front runner in the lieutenant governor race with and there have been zero public polls released — leaving money as the only real gauge of momentum for any of the eight Democratic candidates. The latest fundraising reports will be released on April 15.
The two-candidate attorney general race is the complete opposite when comparing the number of candidates. There is a clear front runner in Herring, but Jones recently picking up the coveted endorsement of Governor Ralph Northam was a boost for his campaign. Getting the top spot on the ballot provides does nothing but benefit Jones as he challenges an incumbent that has already won statewide twice.
Relatively speaking, primary voters are often more engaged and attentive to politics compared to the average person. This could potentially eliminate some of the benefits of being first on the ballot. “Studies suggest that ballot order can affect voter preferences,” said Richard Meagher, associate professor of political science at Randolph Macon College. “But this effect is much more prominent in races with low information and attention.”
The candidates have less than 70 days to convince Democrats across Virginia that they are the best nominee to run statewide in November. Republicans will be choosing their statewide candidates with an unassembled, remote voting convention on May 8.
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