Court hands blow to Dems who sued over Florida ballot order

Court of Appeals says Democrats sued the wrong party for their beef

The state of Florida does not have to come up with a new way to list candidates on the ballot, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday, dealing a blow to Democrats who argued that Republicans have an unfair advantage because the current system automatically lists their candidates first.

The high-stakes jockeying over name order on Florida’s ballot is hardly inconsequential as Republicans and Democrats grapple for every advantage they can get in elections that are often too close to call on election night.

Tossing out a lower court’s ruling, the appellate court found that the lawsuit filed by three Florida voters and several Democratic groups had wrongly targeted the state’s chief elections officer, who the court said isn’t responsible for printing ballots and setting the order in which names appear.

In a statement, the groups said they would weigh their options. They also took issue with the court’s finding that Democrats were not harmed.

Under Florida law, President Donald Trump would automatically appear at the top of the ballot in November — ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumed Democratic nominee.

That’s because top ballot billing goes to the party of the state’s Governor. Republicans have now occupied the Governor’s office for two decades. Florida’s name-ordering law dates to 1951 when Democrats were in power.

Wednesday’s ruling vacates a U.S. District Court decision handed down in November that sided with Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the super PAC Priorities USA.

Similar ballot-order lawsuits are pending in Arizona, Georgia and Texas.

In his ruling in November, Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida said that the current scheme allows the state “to put its thumb on the scale and award an electoral advantage to the party in power.”

The judge ordered the state to come up with a new way to list candidates but did not specify how the state should comply. Any changes would have applied only to ballots being contested by Democrats and Republicans — and would have had its first real test in November’s presidential election.

In its ruling Wednesday, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to sue Florida’s Secretary of State, Laurel Lee. The majority opinion said the plaintiffs did not demonstrate they were harmed.

“None of them proved an injury in fact. And any injury they might suffer is neither fairly traceable to the Secretary nor redressable by a judgment against her because she does not enforce the challenged law,” the court ruled.

The appellate court, which instructed the lower court to dismiss the case, said that Florida’s 67 county elections supervisors — none of whom were named as defendants in the case — were responsible for placing candidates on the ballot, not the secretary of state.

Phone calls seeking comment from the Secretary of State’s Office were not immediately returned.

Some studies suggest that there is a “primacy effect” favoring the first name listed in an election contest, although the extent of it remains in dispute.

Even so, some studies show that the “windfall,” as the appellate court put it, could be enough to cover the 1.2% margin in Florida that allowed Trump to capture the state’s 29 electoral votes and help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“While we disagree strongly with the court’s ruling that Democrats don’t have standing, it is important to note that the Court did not dispute that Republicans are given an unfair advantage due to ballot order,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Marc Elias, said in a statement.

The suit is one of several recent battles playing out in the legal arena over Florida’s ballot box.

An ongoing federal trial began Monday in Tallahassee that could help settle whether impoverished Florida felons can be denied the right to vote.

Earlier this month, state elections officials agreed to allow early voting sites back on college campuses after voting rights groups challenged rules that disqualified most colleges from hosting polling places because of parking restrictions on college campuses.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • Ray Blacklidge

    April 29, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    The Democrats apparently enjoy wasting taxpayers money and people’s time. There was never a chance of them winning on this matter. They should have to pay for all the wasted personnel’s time and money!

    • Jim Donelon

      April 29, 2020 at 7:27 pm

      Ray, you’re an idiot – same as the jerk in the White House – no wonder you couldn’t win an election.

      • morstar

        April 29, 2020 at 10:48 pm

        Jim. You have used insult as your argument for your position. Therefore, under the rules of logic your argument has no validity. Try discussing the issue logically next time.

  • Sam

    April 29, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    If republicans can’t cheat, they can’t win. I don’t know the history of this ballot privilege – the democrats may have had it 25 years ago not sure, but I’m just saying about the cheating….

    • Jim Donelon

      April 29, 2020 at 7:31 pm

      Sam, the Democrats have no one to blame for this except themselves. Just as they should have had an independent group do reapportment when they were in power, they should have NOT set up this ballot position to favour themselves when they were in power.


    • morstar

      April 29, 2020 at 10:54 pm

      Sam the article points out:

      “Florida’s name-ordering law dates to 1951 when Democrats were in power.”

      All you have to do is read the article. There’s no cheating here.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn