Theories of how Alvin Greene won South Carolina’s Democratic Senate primary include fraud and fortunate ballot placement. Here’s a new one: pushy technology.
The Palmetto State uses machines that prompt voters with a red-lettered warning if they pass on any particular contest. On paper, at least, Americans tend to abstain from races with candidates they’ve never heard of; fewer votes get cast farther down the ballot—a pattern called “roll-off.” The Greene race came after the one for education superintendent, but the roll-off was just 10 percent—low, say political analysts, for a race in which the better-known candidate had a 4 percent favorable rating. So voters who were “techno--cajoled” into reconsidering the Greene race might have voted for him just to finish the process, and because he was first on the ballot, helping explain his 18-point margin of victory.
With a quarter of the U.S. voting digitally, the prompt effect has likely happened before—and will again. It just took the prominence of a U.S. Senate contest to get our attention.