Deja Vu from 1988: ‘Many voters overlooked Florida’s Senate contest’

Connie Mack and Buddy MacKay went through something similar to what Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are
Buddy MacKay's official portrait
Buddy MacKay's official portrait
Published Nov. 8, 2018|Updated Nov. 8, 2018

What's that old line?  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

In 1988, quite a few elections chiefs designed a ballot that squeezed the U.S. Senate race onto the bottom of the ballot's first page, below the fringe and long shot presidential candidates.  Many voters complained they missed it because of the ballot design. This year only one county appears to have had a significant number of "undervotes" in the U.S. Senate race — Broward County.

From the great Steve Bousquet 30 years ago:




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Thousands of urban Floridians walked out of the polls Tuesday without voting in the nation's closest U.S. Senate race — a phenomenon some elections supervisors say might have been related to its position on the ballot.

Elections officials speculated that some voters didn't see the names of Senate candidates Kenneth "Buddy" MacKay and Connie Mack near the bottom of the ballot's first page — directly below the presidential candidates — as they were printed in some heavily populated counties.

"My only guess would be that people thought those two people were part of the presidential election. People just overlooked it," said Dot Joyce, head of the state elections division. She asked supervisors in counties that had large drop- offs to send copies of their ballots to be studied. A drop- off is when far more ballots are cast for president than for other races.

Many who skipped the Senate race live in four large counties where Democrat MacKay beat Republican Mack — Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough.

MacKay supporters, frantically awaiting absentee ballot counts Thursday, said the huge drop-off might have cost their candidate the election. Without the drop-off, they said, MacKay would have run up even bigger majorities in those counties.

In both Dade and Hillsborough counties, about 60,000 people who voted for president skipped the Senate race.

"It's a damn shame," said MacKay's political director, Virginia Conger. The Hillsborough result was "a major oddity," she said. "That was our county."

It is common for the votes cast to diminish with each passing page on the ballot, but that did not happen with the Senate race in the large urban counties. Many people who skipped the Senate race voted on obscure ballot questions much farther down the ballot.

In Dade, 50,375 more voters cast ballots for state attorney than for Mack or MacKay. Nineteen percent of all Dade voters did not cast ballots for U.S. senator.

In Broward, 36,189 voters who cast ballots for sheriff skipped the Senate race. Twelve percent of Broward voters didn't vote in the Senate race.

In Palm Beach, 16,082 more voters cast ballots in a referendum on single-member districts for county commissioners than in the Senate race. The drop-off rate: 22 percent.

In Hillsborough, 136,938 more voters cast ballots on the constitutional amendment on terms for county judges than for their next U.S. senator.

Robin Krivanek, Hillsborough elections supervisor, said her office received about a half-dozen complaints from voters about the ballot position of the Senate race, but she rejected that as the reason for the lower vote total.

"There's a very strong indication voters were voting for (George) Bush and not going on and voting in the U.S. Senate race. They were making a conscious decision," Krivanek said after checking the precincts. "Definitely, some people out there missed the race. I'm not saying they didn't. I'm saying there may be more explanations to this than that one particular factor."

David Leahy, Dade elections supervisor, discounted the idea that voters missed the Senate race.

"It was clearly labeled 'U.S. Senator,' " Leahy said. "I don't know how you can identify a race more clearly than that."

Jackie Winchester, Palm Beach County elections supervisor, said she knew of only one call from a voter who didn't see the Senate candidates at the bottom of the ballot page.

'It's possible that was a factor. I think there must be another reason there," Winchester said.

"I can't imagine them just voting for president and then turning the page," said Mary Womack, operations manager for Broward's elections office. She said her office received no complaints about the ballot position for the Senate race.

Candidates can challenge the layout of a ballot before the election, but MacKay did not file such a protest. Farmer said the campaign never checked the layout.

Joyce said the order of races on the ballot is set by state law, but individual elections supervisors decide which races appear on which page.

In several small rural counties, the drop-off was insignificant.. In Pasco County, north of Tampa, the Senate race was listed atop Page 2 of the ballot. Not only was there no drop-off, but 2,871 more Pasco voters cast ballots for Senate than for president.

In heavily Democratic Century Village in Deerfield Beach, condominium leader Amadeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella usually offers a clear analysis of why his fellow retirees voted as they did.

Trinchitella said he could not explain why, in two precincts, 15 percent of his neighbors did not vote in the Senate race.

"I'm amazed," Trinchitella said. "It's too bad — that would have all been Buddy MacKay's vote."