Q&A – Florida’s Voter Ballots, Governor DeSantis’s Role In Democrats Suing

Today’s entry - Federal judge Mark Walker is legislating from the bench. Why would the Dem's sue now? What happened in the elections since the late '60s? No problem with all of those in Florida. Could it be because Pres. TRUMP is in the WHITE HOUSE?

Bottom Line: The topic of Florida’s voter ballots continues to be a hot one based on questions and feedback I’ve been receiving. Florida’s Democrats sued to attempt to end Florida’s current candidate balloting order process. Candidates are ranked in order of the governor’s party in partisan races. Last Friday, federal judge Mark Walker ruled in favor of the Democrats striking down our law and leaving Florida in limbo as the state appeals the ruling. 

Given that Democrats passed Florida’s current ballot order into law and now have sued to end it, your question is on point. They certainly were for it while Democrats controlled the statehouse. It also didn’t prevent Republicans from winning Florida in Presidential elections during that time just as it didn’t prevent Democrats from winning our state during times when we’ve had Republican governors. That most recently includes President Obama winning Florida twice. It’s worth noting that Judge Mark Walker is an Obama appointee, siding with Democrats to strike down the law Democrats passed. Anyway, yes, there's no question that Democrats are now pursuing this for political reasons, however, no, I don’t believe this has anything to do with President Trump. I think it has everything to do with Governor DeSantis.

If Andrew Gillum were governor, of course, the Democrats wouldn't sue to end Florida’s law. Their candidates would be first! That Democrats brought this lawsuit now is based clearly on DeSantis being governor but also, in my educated opinion, his incredible early success and popularity in our state. This is an admission that they don’t anticipate taking back the governor’s mansion for the foreseeable future. That would account for the timing. While Florida has had Republican governors for twenty consecutive years, only Jeb Bush enjoyed such broad-based support. Based on Morning Consult data, Governor DeSantis currently enjoys a net positive approval rating of a remarkable +36%. 

To the extent there’s research on the impact of being first, it does appear there’s a benefit. The first study done on the topic was conducted in 1975 by the University of Texas at Arlington. The study found that candidates listed first were more likely to be voted for unless voters were highly familiar with the candidates. That makes sense. In reality, it speaks to more of an advantage in non-partisan races, which actually doesn’t apply to Florida’s law which impacts the listing of partisan races. Next up was a study by Yale and Boston College in 2004 which considered elections in New York in which candidates were listed differently based on precinct. In 71 of 79 precincts, or 90% of the time, candidates fared best when listed higher on ballots. Nine percent of the time the difference in margin was enough to potentially alter the outcome of the election. So, it seems like there’s something to it. 

The low end of that equation comes down to partisan races, the high end – up to 5% pertains to non-partisan races. Regardless, all related studies do suggest being first is an advantage. This takes us back to where we started. I understand the logic of saying there’s an advantage being listed first. My issue with the legal decision by Judge Mark Walker in striking down Florida’s law is the premise of his ruling. Someone will always be first, it’s unavoidable unless every race were a write-in only race. So, in essence, he provided a legal judgement that’s not possible to satisfy with any ballot construction. This is why I feel the DeSantis administration will win the appeal. 

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Photo by: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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