Jackson County Legislature tables effort to change way ballots list candidates

When candidate filing season opens in Jackson County next month, chances are it will be the same old-same old — meaning candidates for sheriff and county prosecutor will vie to be the first in line and, therefore, first listed on the primary election ballot.

County legislator Theresa Garza Ruiz had hoped to end that system, which she sees as silly and unfair. Candidates for county office have been known to camp out overnight or, in the case of county employees and incumbents, slip into the courthouse in the pre-dawn hours. They hope to gain a perceived advantage, even though it’s unclear whether having one’s name atop the ballot makes much difference in election outcomes.

But Garza Ruiz conceded defeat Monday after the proposed ordinance met less than enthusiastic support from fellow legislators who would have been affected by it when those seats come up in 2014.

The killer blow was a legal opinion from County Counselor W. Stephen Nixon, who concluded that the legislature could not force a change in how ballot order was determined.

The legislature could suggest reforming the system, he said. But by state statute, it’s up to County Clerk Mary Jo Spino to decide whether to keep the current system or adopt the lottery method that Garza Ruiz had suggested.

The Missouri secretary of state uses a lottery system in elections for state offices, and many cities and counties have followed that example.

Spino said in an interview that she’s not opposed to changing the system but noted there’s not much time to set up a procedure before the filing season begins Feb. 28.

Garza Ruiz proposed a similar change in 2008, but it failed 7-2.

However, ballot order will be among three election-related topics that a charter review committee will take up in the coming weeks, County Executive Mike Sanders promises. He plans on naming members of that committee in the week ahead. Also under study will be term limits for county elected officials and campaign finance limits.