Can Florida Democrats keep Bernie off the ballot?

We already knew that Florida Democrats weren’t exactly thrilled with Bernie Sanders after his Castro-loving commentary the other day. But just how upset are they? In the case of at least a few of them, they’re angry enough that they’re willing to go to court to keep him off the ballot in the primary contest. That would be a major blow to Bernie’s chances of winning the nomination given how many delegates the Sunshine State awards. But does this lawsuit even stand a chance? (Washington Times)

Two Florida Democrats have filed a lawsuit to keep Sen. Bernard Sanders off the state’s presidential-primary ballot because he’s not a member of the party.

The lawsuit, which was filed this week in Leon County, argues that Mr. Sanders of Vermont is an independent and thus ineligible for the March 17 primary.

“Florida is a closed primary state, yet here we have someone who is an independent on the Democratic ballot,” Karen Gievers, attorney for the two plaintiffs, told Politico for a report filed Tuesday. “You can’t be an independent and be a member of the party.”

The two men bringing the suit are named Frank Bach and George Brown of Tallahassee. They are reportedly both registered Democrats, potentially giving them standing to at least initiate the action. (They are also both veterans, not that that should make any difference in this case.)

It’s true that Florida has a closed primary, but all that means is that only registered Democrats can vote in the primary. Who gets to be on the ballot is something of a different matter, involving both the rules established by the party and, to a lesser extent, state election laws.

The thing is, I’m not even sure why this would be a matter for the courts to decide. Each party makes its own rules of the road and each party is the arbiter of how those rules are applied. If we were talking about an actual election where government representatives are selected there would be all sorts of laws that apply. But this is a primary. In theory, they could let a Republican get on the ballot if they wanted to. And Bernie caucuses with the Democrats anyway.

The timing of this lawsuit is certainly curious. Florida’s primary is on March 17ths, less than a month from now. Everyone has known that Bernie was running for well over a year at this point. Did the plaintiffs only just now realize that Sanders actually has a decent chance of winning the nomination and panic? That’s certainly what it sounds like. The theme of “Bernie can’t win and must be stopped” is a common one in Democratic circles these days, but perhaps nobody expected him to be doing this well.

Just to be on the safe side, I went through the Flordia ballot access qualification rules for the primaries. Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t appear to say anything about having to be a Democrat. Perhaps they just assumed that nobody but a Democrat would try, but hey… the rules are the rules. Also, the deadline for withdrawing a candidate’s name from the ballot has already passed.

If there was some question about Sanders not being able to qualify, that should have been brought up more than a year ago. There were no complaints about Sanders’ qualifications in 2016, but as you will recall, Bernie joined the Democratic Party in preparation for his run against Hillary Clinton. After losing, he dropped out and went back to being an independent. He didn’t do that this time. One would imagine, however, that if his failure to rejoin the party was going to cause any issues he would have had some election law specialists looking into the matter long before now.