butterfly

Canadians first showed up their neighbors to the south this week when they finalized election results within a tidy 24 hours. On November 27, they voted Jean Chretien the new prime minister. Now they have participated in a scientific study showing that the infamous butterfly ballot used in Palm Beach, Fla., during the U.S. presidential elections probably confused enough people to have made a difference in the outcome. The study will appear in the December 7th issue of Nature.

Robert Sinclair of the University of Alberta and his colleagues created a version of the butterfly ballot showing Canadian politicians in place of U.S. candidates. They put Stockwell Day's name where George W. Bush's had been, Jean Chretien's where Al Gore's had appeared and Joe Clark's where Pat Buchanan's was written. Additional names filled another seven spots. Next they asked a group of Canadian shoppers to cast a vote on the ballot and then tell them for whom they had intended to vote. The aim was to see how many people mistakenly ticked off Clark's name when they meant to vote for Chretien--an exact parallel to the presumed errors some Palm Beach voters made, accidentally selecting Buchanan for Gore.

The team discovered that almost 8 percent of their study subjects made the mistake, and many more complained that the ballot was confusing. In comparison, no errors were made by a control group of Canadian shoppers given a ballot with the candidates names listed in a single column. "It seems that the butterfly ballot was last week's issue," says Melvin Mark, one of the study's authors and a psychologist from Penn State University. But even so, he feels the study could prove "legally relevant."