Days before Florida ballots go out, Independents fight rejection
Days before the first Florida voters begin getting their presidential ballots, the Independent Party of Florida wants Gov. Rick Scott's administration to reconsider the decision to block its candidate from the ballot and deprive voters of an alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Independent Evan McMullin filed papers with the state Division of Elections by the Sept. 1 deadline. But the state denied his petition, saying he had not been nominated by a "national party," which the state defines as "a political party that by definition is registered with and recognized as a qualified national committee of a political party by the Federal Election Commission."
But in shutting out McMullin, the state cited a law that previously has been cited as unclear, undefined and unenforceable by the Florida Supreme Court. In the case of Reform Party v. Black, decided on Sept. 17, 2004, the court overruled a lower court decision and ordered that Reform Party of Florida candidate Ralph Nader be on the 2004 presidential ballot in Florida -- and directed the Legislature to make the law clearer.
"Any doubt as to the meaning of statutory terms should be resolved broadly in favor of ballot access," a five-member majority said, according to a New York Times account.
Here's what the court said: "This statute did not outline standards or definitions for the most critical terms, namely: 'national party' and 'national convention.' Thus, the Reform Party of Florida was not on notice that these terms were to be interpreted in accordance with any specific criteria and certainly not the criteria utilized by the trial court ... In the absence of more specific statutory criteria or guidance from the Legislature we are unable to conclude that a statutory violation occurred."
The court added: "Section 103.021(4)(a) is not sufficiently clear to put the Reform Party of Florida on notice that it could not qualify under its provisions. However, we are left with a statute that does not have its critical terms defined or standards set for ascertaining compliance with the statute. We thus urge the Legislature to revisit this important issue at its earliest opportunity."
Based on that ruling, McMullin might stand a good chance of prevailing in court. But he appears to have run out of time because ballots have already been printed. County election supervisors will begin mailing overseas and military ballots this week (tentatively on Friday, Sept. 23), and domestic mail ballots will go out beginning Tuesday, Oct. 4, five weeks before Election Day. The election is here.
In its current request for reconsideration, the Independent Party of Florida noted that it has 258,000 registered voters, making it the third largest political party in Florida and disenfranchising all of them from having a voice for president.
Palm Beach County has the most Independent Party members with nearly 25,000, and Hillsborough is second with nearly 18,000. Statewide voter registration figures show that there are 10 times as many Independent Party members in Florida as there are Libertarians, and that party's candidate, Gary Johnson, is on the Florida ballot. Independent Party members in Florida outnumber Green Party members by a 50 to 1 margin, yet the Greens also have a candidate on the ballot in Jill Stein.
"Let the ballot box -- not ballot access -- be the deciding factor," wrote Independent Party of Florida chairman Ernest Bach of Largo.