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Not as Easy as 1, 2, 3

By Jorge Casuso

August 19 -- It may be a rare case where being last is almost as good as being first and being in the middle could be worse than being last, unless you're an incumbent. Those are some of the anecdotal findings by veteran poll watchers who engaged in the unscientific exercise of handicapping local races according to the ballot placement released by the City Clerk on Monday.

If common knowledge -- as well as actual studies -- are any indication, Councilman Robert Holbrook was the big winner in the lottery conducted by the Secretary of State's office, getting the top spot on the November ballot, followed by fellow incumbent Kevin McKeown, who secured the second spot.

"Studies have indicated that the candidates higher up on the ballot do tend to have a better chance," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Senior Scholar at USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development and a top political pundit. "There is an indication that ballot placement is extremely important."

"Certainly the top spot is an advantage," said Steve Alpert, a long-time political observer and member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. The top spot is particularly important for newcomers, who could add between five and ten percent to their vote totals, he added.

"An incumbent is going to get the attention anyway," said Alpert, who has been closely watching local elections for a quarter century.

Some local political observers, including Alpert, believe that the best spots may be not only at the top of the ballot, but at the bottom as well -- in this case slots occupied by Pro Se, followed by Jerry Rubin.

"In a race that has a lot of candidates, the second place is the next best place and the last spot is the third best spot," Alpert said.

Kim Karie, a long-time local political strategist, agrees.

"Your first two spaces and your bottom two are probably the best," said Karie, noting that when you have an incumbent it doesn't make much of a difference.

But Bebith Jeffe said she hasn't "read any studies that indicate that."

Except for incumbents, such as Pam O'Connor, those in the middle -- Matteo Dinolfo, Abby Arnold, Josefina Aranda and Chuck Allord -- could be lost in the shuffle, political observers said.

"If you're in the middle you get overlooked," Alpert said.

But Bruce Cameron, a long-time SMRR strategist, said that ballot order might not be much of an advantage in a City such as Santa Monica, where the electorate is politically astute.

"There are some folks going in there who are voting for the governor's race or a proposition who may be unfamiliar with local candidates and they may go one, two, three on the ballot," said Cameron. "But it really doesn't account for a whole lot."

Karie agrees: "If they don't know who they're going to vote for, it helps to be at the top or the bottom," she said. "But you have an extremely astute electorate, so it's not as important here as in other communities."

Below is the ballot order for the four local races:

City Council
Bob Holbrook
Kevin McKeown
Matteo Dinolfo
Abby Arnold
Josefina Aranda
Chuck Allord
Pam O'Connor
Pro Se
Jerry Rubin
School Board
Shane McLoud
Julia Brownley
Emily Bloomfield
Brenda Gottfried
Oscar de la Torre
Ann Cochran
Rent Control Board
Betty S. Mueller
Jennifer Kennedy
Thomas D. Carter
Alan Toy

College Board
Dorothy Erhart-Morrison
Nancy Greenstein
Bill Winslow
Carole Currey
Nancy Cattell-Luckenbach
Herb Roney

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