Judge in ‘donkey vote' case says party in power can’t cling to ballot's top line
This story was updated Nov. 19 with additional information.
Democratic candidates should get a shot at the most prominent spot on the ballot even in reliably red states, a federal judge has ruled in a setback for Republican efforts to hold on to that advantage in bellwether states across the country next year.
The decision came in a challenge to a Florida law mandating that candidates of the same party as the governor get listed first on the ballot.
That suit was among the first filed by Democrats as part of a campaign to challenge proposed 2020 election procedures in red states that have been trending toward purplish blue. Two weeks ago the party's national campaign organizations filed suits against similar ballot-primacy laws in Arizona, Georgia and Texas.
Those cases could be influenced by the precedent set down by federal Judge Mark Walker of Tallahassee, who held Florida's law unconstitutional on Friday.
"By systematically awarding a statistically significant advantage to the candidates of the party in power, Florida's ballot order scheme takes a side in partisan elections," he wrote, and the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution do not allow "a state to put its thumb on the scale and award an electoral advantage to the party in power."
The state vowed to appeal. The judge gave Florida's Republican secretary of State, Laurel Lee, two weeks to inform the state's 67 counties that the current law is unconstitutional -- and gave Lee three weeks to come up with a new plan
Evidence at a trial this summer detailed the benefits of being the first candidate listed on the ballot, which political operatives have nicknamed the "primacy effect," the "windfall vote" and the "donkey vote." After looking at elections in the past four decades, one expert testified that first-listed candidates in Florida have gained an average advantage of 5 percentage points — more than enough to be dispositive in a place where the margin in statewide contests recently has routinely been 1 point or less.
"Although no single raindrop bursts a dam, and a single small transaction rarely is the sole cause of a bankruptcy, the dam still fails and the debtor becomes insolvent," Walker wrote. "Similarly, candidate name order effects are not the only reason elections are won and lost, but they do contribute substantially to candidates' successes or failures at the polls."
Republicans have held the governorship since 1999, meaning they've had the top ballot line for every race each of the past 10 election cycles.
Florida has voted for the presidential winner six straight times, and its 29 electoral votes will once again be the third biggest prize next November — after reliably Democratic California and potentially up-for-grabs Texas, which has had a GOP governor for two straight decades. Democrats are sounding bullish about contesting the 38 electoral votes in that state, the 16 in Georgia and the 11 in Arizona — plus a total of four Senate seats in the states with the other "donkey vote" suits.
While Walker's ruling is on appeal, there's no clarity about when or how the top line in Florida will be assigned in 2020.
The case would go next to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also hears appeals from Georgia. Texas and Arizona are in different appeals circuits.
- Florida's latest fair elections imbroglio concerns party names on the ... ›
- Democrats sue in Arizona, Texas, Georgia for ballot position - The ... ›
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.