Philly City Council-at large ballot positions: coincidence or not?

 (Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

(Bas Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

Much was made last month of the role a vintage Horn & Hardart coffee can plays in determining candidates’ position on the Philadelphia city ballot and his/her chances of winning in the May 19 primary elections. 

The lower the number a candidate pulls out of the coffee can, the better his/her ballot position will be, or so the thinking goes. 

Hold on a sec, though. It appears that, despite pulling higher numbers, three of the four incumbents — Blondell Reynolds Brown (who drew the eighth spot), Bill Greenlee (seventh) and Ed Neilson (18th) — ended up on the top row in the City Council at-large section. Click here for our story on the drawings and a to see a PDF of how the mayoral and Council at-large candidates drew. 

The field has morphed a bit since the coffee can’s moment in the sun. Five people have since dropped out of the race, bringing the Democratic field of at-large candidates down to 16.

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The Philadelphia City Paper recently laid out some good evidence that ballot position doesn’t mean much when it comes to election outcomes — even in City Council at-large races that don’t get the same level of attention as the mayor’s race. 

But should we be even just a little skeptical of how well this ballot array turned out for these three incumbents?

No, says Fred Voigt. He is general counsel for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, the elected officials who run the city elections. He explained how the ballot was made: 

After the drawing is complete and the order determined, two civil servants from the commissioners’ office are responsible for coming up with the layout of the ballot, working within the requirements of state law and the physical limitations of voting machines. 

Next, a draft of the ballot goes to the three City Commissioners for approval. However, when the commissioners themselves are up for election, as is the case this year, that role is played by three Court of Common Pleas judges. 

As for any possible finagling of the order, Voigt says no way. 

“It doesn’t happen simply because there are checks and balances in place and no matter what happens you will have someone concluding there is a conspiracy,” Voigt said. 

Voigt used to run the watchdog group Committee of Seventy, so he’s a very credible voice here.

So here at NinetyNine, we’ll put away our tin-foil hats for now. But when you cover Philly politics, you never know when they’ll come in handy.

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2015 Primary Election Ballot (PDF)

2015 Primary Election Ballot (Text)

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