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This law gives the party in power an unfair edge | Editorial

A federal judge was right to strike Florida ballot law that lists candidates from governor’s political party first.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker speaking during 2016 graduation ceremonies at the Florida State University College of Law. [Florida State College of Law] [Florida State College of Law]
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker speaking during 2016 graduation ceremonies at the Florida State University College of Law. [Florida State College of Law] [Florida State College of Law]
Published Nov. 29

A federal judge in Tallahassee advanced the cause of fair elections by striking down a Florida law that helps the state’s dominant political party remain that way. The ruling, if upheld on appeal, would reverse a bipartisan wrong and level the playing field for future candidates.

State law requires the candidates from the party that most recently won the governor’s race be placed first on the ballot. The law has been on the books since 1951 — when Democrats controlled state government. But U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote that being placed first on the ballot has given Republicans over the last two decades a roughly 5 percentage-point advantage at the polls, a significant amount in a state where the last several major statewide contests were decided by razor-thin margins.

While Democrats hailed the ruling as a “major legal victory,” and the governor’s office filed a notice of appeal, the finding protects the interests of both parties by heralding a new ballot style that does not automatically discriminate. If upheld, Walker’s ruling means that President Donald Trump won’t necessarily appear first on Florida ballots for the 2020 presidential race. Trump won Florida, a crucial swing state, by 1.2 percentage points in 2016,

Walker did not tell state officials how the ballots should be fixed but suggested several options, such as organizing ballots alphabetically. Candidates over the years have widely acknowledged the so-called “primacy effect,” which one expert in the case valued at about five percentage points. This is a bipartisan relic that has no place in influencing the outcome of any election.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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