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"Addressing" Confusion Over Candidates With Similar Names

You step into the voting booth and find a ballot measure that says “five at large to be elected” and several of those running have the same last name.

Candidates with similar names have created voter confusion over the years, according to registrars and the Secretary of State’s office.

“It came up this last election cycle, on several occasions,” First Assistant Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told the Board of Elections Supervisors Thursday.

“It creates opportunities for election challenges, which can also be very messy,” Ardoin added.

The board was reviewing suggestions for changes to elections laws, in preparation for the legislative session which begins in March. Secretary of State Tom Schedler explained the proposal to try and reduce the confusion caused by similar candidate names.

“It requires the addresses of candidates who have the same surname, who are running for the same office, to have their addresses printed on the ballot,” Schedler said, adding, “So the candidates can be distinguished and the voters will know which candidate they are voting for.”

Board member Rick McGimsey clearly wondered if he’d heard right.

“So when the voter goes into the voting booth, he sees two candidates for the same office with the same name, he would see the addresses for both of them?” McGimsey asked. “And that would – somehow -- allow that voter to know which one is, he is really trying to vote for?

Statements were made by various registrars that it’s more frequently a problem in rural areas, rather than in major cities, which led board member Jacques Berry to express doubts about how effective putting addresses on the ballot might be.

“In a small community when this happens, they probably know by address. Otherwise, I don’t see how an address is any more helpful than the ballot number,” Berry observed.

Rapides Parish Clerk of Court Robin Hooter had concerns about privacy.

“I think we may have some pushback, maybe from judges or other people that don’t want their addresses out there,” Hooter said.

But Marietta Norton, legal counsel for the Secretary of State, pointed out, “The residence address for a judge on the voter registration system is a public record.”

In the end, the proposal was withdrawn from the list of election law fixes being considered for the spring legislative session.