Ballot Format Debated

As early voting shifts into full swing a controversy over the ballot is brewing. Some say changes in the ballot's appearance will cause confusion at the polls.

For the past 30 years you would find Democrats in the left column, Republicans in the right column. Candidates are now stacked in rows to save space with the new electronic voting machines.

State Representative Mike Kernell is running for re-election. He says the new ballot form is questionable. "The law says there must be democratic and republican columns and there are not."

"I really don't think the column layout is going to change who you're going to select," argues Shelby County election commissioner Rich Holden. He says the new technology does not allow for the old ballot format "during our research in purchasing these machines, none of the vendors with this style of equipment were able to lay the ballot out that way."

Berje Yacoubian is a longtime pollster for both republican and democratic candidates. "Ballots like this not only create confusion unnecessarily, but may lead to unintended votes." Yacoubian points out that in addition to the ballot showing candidates listed in rows instead of columns there candidates are no longer listed in alphabetical order. "If I were one of these candidates I'd go to court and try to stop this ballot because this is not fair."

In fact the issue could end up in the hands of the law. "I'm going to ask the state attorney general to rule on whether we can have machines that will not follow the law," says Kernell.

Pollster Yacoubian believes that if Kernell follows through with his threat to challenge the ballot format it has the potential to put the vote on hold. A new amendment gives the county election commission the right to rearrange the ballot to fit the new technology. Kernell plans to argue that.