If signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a change in state election law approved in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session would ensure the name of Phil Berger Jr. appears first on the ballot in his race against incumbent Court of Appeals Judge Linda Stephens in November. If not for the legislation, Berger’s name would have appeared below Stephens’ on the November ballot through a random ballot-order method used by the state Board of Elections. Berger, a Republican, is the son of state Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican. The elder Berger voted for the bill that would result in his son’s name being listed first. Numerous studies have shown that being listed first on a ballot can give that candidate at least a slight advantage, especially on down-ballot races like the Court of Appeals race where candidates aren’t as well-known as presidential or gubernatorial candidates, for example.
“I imagine some people in the legislature are aware of those studies,” Stephens said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I guess I’ll have to work extra hard to ensure the voters know who I am.”
Stephens, a lifelong Democrat, joined the Court of Appeals in 2006 amid a career as an attorney. Berger Jr., her challenger, is an appointed administrative law judge and former Rockingham County district attorney. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014.
The law change also means that the names of the other Republican Court of Appeals candidates appear above their opponents on November ballots. Specifically, the change would list the candidates of the sitting governor’s party alphabetically first. Currently, ballot orders for partisan races are determined that way. McCrory is a Republican — the first from his party to serve as governor since Jim Martin left office more than 23 years ago.