Florida judge: Trump can be first on the ballot

There was never much of a question about President Trump being on the ballot in Florida this November (obviously). But owing to a peculiarity in the Sunshine State’s election laws, there was a question as to where on the ballot his name would appear. That may sound like a trivial matter, or at least it did to me, but some people were taking it very seriously. A group of Democrats didn’t want Donald Trump’s name to be automatically placed at the top of the list of candidates. But now, thanks to a federal judge, it appears that Trump will retain the top spot. (Politico)

A federal appeals court on Wednesday dealt a major blow to Democrats in the battleground state of Florida, throwing out a lawsuit that sought to roll back a law that puts President Donald Trump’s name first on the 2020 ballot.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said the group suing Florida over the nearly 70-year-old rule lacked legal standing to challenge the law and failed to prove any injury.

The decision means Florida election officials can keep Republican candidates listed first on the ballot.

This case definitely dives into the obscure end of the election law pool. Back in the 1950s, when Democrats controlled both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, they passed a law saying that presidential candidate of the same party as the Governor would automatically appear first on the presidential election ballot. That clearly worked out well for the Democrats back in the day, but in the modern era, the Republicans have won every governor’s race since 1998. That means that the GOP candidate has been at the top of the ballot no matter which party held the White House.

That was a rather silly law for Democrats to pass in the first place, and now it’s come back to bite them on their collective backsides. But is the law constitutional? We still don’t know because the judge never got around to ruling on that question. He simply determined that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to bring the case because they couldn’t demonstrate any harm they would suffer from leaving the law in place. (A lower court judge previously ruled the law unconstitutional.)

The basis for the complaint seems to be testimony provided by “experts” claiming that having the top position on the ballot gives a candidate “as much as a 5 percent advantage in elections.” Does that sound right to you? It would seem to imply that a significant number of voters are too stupid to read their own ballot and are just picking the first name they see. Perhaps a better explanation is that the candidate who won last time has the power of incumbency working for them and they therefore have better odds of winning.

It’s not as if Florida is unique in using this system. It’s actually quite common. New York’s election laws provide that “the candidate or candidates of the party which polled for its candidate for the office of governor at the last preceding election for such office the highest number of votes” will be on the top line. That’s just a very wordy way to say that if you won the last governor’s election, your party goes first on the ballot.

Even if you believe that being on the top of the ballot offers an advantage, somebody has to be on the top. How do you propose to make the decision… with a coin flip every two years? And if you start doing that, then you’ll have to invite the Libertarians, the Green Party and everyone else to participate. All things considered, this sounds like a rather pointless argument to be having and tying up the court’s time. Just stick with the current rules and may the best man/woman/extraterrestrial win.