Will Donald Trump Be Listed First on Republican Primary Ballots?

By: Steve Roberts and Nicole Kelly

Political consultants will confirm that ballot order – meaning the order in which the candidates are listed on the ballot – has an impact on voter choice. But will the Republican frontrunner candidate be listed first on the ballot for Republican primary voters? The answer varies depending on the state and presidential candidate ballot access laws.

Each state has different rules as it pertains not only to accessing the ballot, but also regarding the order in which qualified candidates are listed. Overall, ballot order can largely be classified into three different categories: (1) alphabetical order, (2) randomized drawings, and (3) first-to-file. Some states do not publicly list, via statute or rule, how they determine candidate ballot access.

In the battleground states – such as Nevada and New Hampshire – ballot order is determined from alphabetical order of candidate last name. This contrasts with the Missouri caucus ballot, which utilizes a first-to-file method for the primary. Because the process for ballot access in Missouri involves only a simple Declaration of Candidacy form and a filing fee, ballot order boils down to which candidate pays the filing fee first.

Illinois and California are examples of states which not only randomize their ballot access order, but formalize this into their election laws. In California, candidates are listed according to a “randomized alphabet,” whereas the Secretary of State draws 26 letters in a random order. The order of the random letters corresponds to the candidate’s last name. For example, if the primary randomized alphabet starts off with “R,” “X,” “D,” “W,” “T,” then the order for candidate names on the ballot would be Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump. Similarly, in Illinois, a randomized lottery process is utilized where all candidate names are drawn to determine who is listed first. As defined in Illinois code, lotteries are held no later than nine days after the petition filing deadline.

What does this mean for campaign strategy? While it is impossible to change or affect ballot order in randomized states, it certainly means that candidates who wish to be listed first in first-to-file states must understand the legal compliance process for ballot access so that they can indeed be first to file. It also underscores the importance of counsel for ballot access early on in the campaign process, so that budgeting for various filing fees can be accounted for in the timing as it can affect ballot order.