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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Why is the Florida ballot not ordered alphabetically or by incumbent? Statute

26

October

Glance at a general election ballot from any of Florida's 67 counties and you'll notice that Republican candidates are listed first in every instance. Mitt Romney's name appears above President Barack Obama's. U.S. Rep. Connie Mack is listed above incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. And so on down the ballot.

This is because Florida has a rule dictating what whichever party gets more votes in the gubernatorial election gets to appear first on the ballot. Republican Gov. Rick Scott's 2010 win cemented Obama's No. 2 placement on ballots across the state.  

Here's the statute language: 

The names of the candidates of the party that received the highest number of votes for Governor in the last election in which a Governor was elected shall be placed first for each office on the general election ballot, together with an appropriate abbreviation of the party name; the names of the candidates of the party that received the second highest vote for Governor shall be placed second for each office, together with an appropriate abbreviation of the party name.

Some states rotate the order in which candidates appear; some list them according to the date they filed to run; the approaches run the gamut.  

It's unclear how unusual Florida's rule is, but various studies have shown that the order of appearance does have an effect. 

Stanford University professor John Krosnick, who has studied ballot order for over a decade, found that in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush got 9 percent more votes in the California districts where he was listed first than in the ones where he was listed last. (California rotates candidates' ballot placement.)

That year, Bush appeared first on all Florida ballots, a result of his brother being the state's Republican governor. 

Asked about the effect of this in a 2006 interview with NPR, Krosnick said it could have changed the election's outcome.

“So if anything approximating that, even half of it, even a quarter of it, even a tenth of it, had occurred in Florida in 2000, Al Gore would have won the presidency in that year,” he said.

-- Anna M. Phillips, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 3:51pm]

    

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