This is the coffee can of destiny.
It helps decide who runs the city.
Every local primary election, Philadelphia candidates pick a number from the Horn & Hardart can to determine where they appear on the ballot. Pull the right number and enjoy a boost in votes; pull the wrong number and face a steeper climb to victory — and maybe wind up in the dustbin of history?
An inanimate celebrity in Philadelphia politics, the coffee can is meant to bring randomness, and thus fairness, to the ballot design.
That doesn’t mean it’s universally beloved.
“It’s a total disgrace,” longtime Democratic Party chair Bob Brady said.
The concern: How candidates are listed on the ballot influences voters, especially in low-information races with many candidates, such as judicial races. (Judicial candidates’ ballot positions are decided through a similar method in Harrisburg.)
This year, 34 people are vying for seven available City Council at-large seats, the most since 1983. Forty-three candidates filed to run for seven open judicial seats.
State law has required random drawing of lots to determine ballot order for decades. Technology now makes it possible to vary the order across different ballots, but Pennsylvania, even with new voting machines coming, has made no major move to change its process.
Research shows that ballot order is important.
“It’s pretty much incontrovertible that you have an advantage if you come first. Just flat-out,” said Monika McDermott, a political scientist at Fordham University.
In lower-information races in which lots of candidates run, it’s even more important. That’s for two reasons, said Jon Krosnik, a Stanford University professor who has studied ballot position: “Some voters walk into the voter booth feeling deeply conflicted and uncertain — and the order of candidate names is a subtle, unconscious nudge.”
Other voters are committed to casting a ballot but, knowing little about the candidates, select the first names they see.