New State Law Could Benefit Son Of Powerful Lawmaker

Jul 6, 2016

A new state law could benefit Phil Berger Jr. in his bid for a seat on the Court of Appeals.
Credit Phil Berger for Judge Campaign

A familiar name in state politics could have a prime spot on this fall's ballot because of a proposal passed by state lawmakers.

Phil Berger Jr. is the son of Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), one of the most powerful officials in North Carolina. The younger Berger is a former district attorney who again is seeking public office after losing a bid for the state's 6th Congressional District seat in 2014.

Berger Jr. is now running for a seat on the Court of Appeals against incumbent Linda Stephens, a Democrat.

Among the policies passed hastily in the final days of the legislative session is Senate Bill 667, a measure that would implement a new procedure for listing names on the ballot in the Court of Appeals race. Berger Jr. would be listed first, a placement that many experts say is advantageous. Incumbents are typically listed in that top slot on ballots.

"There are a host of studies on this and they are fairly consistent that being listed first on the ballot is an advantage," said Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina, adding that the size of the advantage varies from about 0.7 percentage points at the low end to over 5 percentage points at the high end.

The effects tend to be greater in "lower information elections," such as elections where the voters don't know as much about the candidates, Cooper explained.

The measure at hand would only change the ballot order for this specific contest. The Governor could sign the measure, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.