TALLAHASSEE — In three successful statewide elections, Charlie Crist's name was at the top of the ballot. But as a nonpartisan candidate for the Senate, he shows up ninth in a field of 10 candidates, sandwiched between Rick Tyler and Lewis Jerome Armstrong.
"It's an issue, obviously," Gov. Crist said.
Some Florida voters soon will see the crowded ballot, with overseas and military ballots going into the mail today. County elections offices will start mailing absentee ballots Monday.
Crist said Wednesday he didn't think the placement of his name on the ballot was cause for concern, but even he was not correct about its location.
"We're going to be listed eighth on the ballot as an independent," he said. "So if you want independence, go to eight."
Only, it's nine.
Under state law in general elections, partisan candidates are listed first, starting with the candidate of the party controlling the Governor's Office. That puts Republican Marco Rubio at the top of the Senate ballot, followed by Democrat Kendrick Meek (Crist was a Republican when he was elected governor in 2006, so he contributed to Rubio's name being listed first).
By law, minor party candidates are next: in this case, Libertarian Alexander Snitker followed by Bernie DeCastro of the Constitution Party of Florida.
No-party candidates are listed in the order in which they filed their official papers — not alphabetically. So it's Sue Askeland, Bruce Ray Riggs, Bobbie Bean, Tyler, Crist and Armstrong.
"I don't think that's a big deal," Crist said. "We're just going to have to have an education process to make sure people know it's not the normal course of affairs."
Crist's name appeared first on the ballot in his successful races for education commissioner in 2000, attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006.
The only time he lost a statewide election, for the Senate in 1998, his name appeared below that of Bob Graham, the Democrat whose party then held the Governor's Office.
Strategists have long debated whether ballot order in a crowded race makes a difference.
A 2005 study of "ballot order effect" by the California Institute of Technology found "little systematic evidence" that being listed first helped a candidate.
Republican strategist Brett Doster said the effect is likely to be minimal in the Senate race because Crist has the highest name recognition of any political figure in the state.
"If one of the (Senate) candidates beats Charlie Crist by 500 votes, then you could say yes, not being at the top of the ballot definitely made a difference," said Doster, who is not working for any Senate candidate.
Could that happen? The last time 10 candidates' names appeared on a Florida ballot for the same office was for president in 2000 — the historic cliffhanger election that George W. Bush won by 537 votes.
Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.