Florida's latest fair elections imbroglio concerns party names on the ballot
Does the order in which the names of the two major political parties appear on the ballot effectively discount the votes of half of Florida's electorate? That's the question at the heart of the latest in the long list of legal fights over election fairness in the nation's most populous purple state.
The dispute is being heard in a trial this week before Judge Mark Walker, the chief jurist at the federal district courthouse in Tallahassee. Walker has become the pivotal figure in several voting rights lawsuits that could tip the state off its partisan razor's edge.
Florida last fall reaffirmed its status as the biggest electoral prize in the country that both Republicans and Democrats can realistically hope to win, when the GOP held on to the governor's mansion by four tenths of 1 percent of the vote and claimed a Senate seat by an even closer margin.
The Democratic Party and progressive groups are working on several fronts to tilt things their way in time for 2020, when winning the state's 29 electoral votes will be central to the strategies of both President Trump and his challenger.
In the latest case, they're hoping the federal courts strike down as unconstitutional a 68-year-old Florida law giving pole position on every ballot line to the federal, state and local candidates who are from the governor's party.
Because only Republicans have been governor since 1999, the Democrats say this has put them at a decided disadvantage, as voters are more likely to pick the candidate whose name they see first.
"There's no secret in politics that where a candidate appears on the ballot matters," Abha Kanna said in her opening arguments Monday on behalf of the Democrats. Their case will emphasize a study of seven decades' worth of Florida election returns by Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnik, who found GOP candidates had a 5.4 percentage point advantage in elections when their names came first and Democrats a 4.6 point edge when they were listed first.
"People vote for all sorts of reasons and no reasons at all," countered Florida's attorney, Mohammad Jazil. "The statute, at the end of the day, doesn't keep a single voter from casting a ballot."
Democrats have proposed having the party with the top ballot line alternate by county, a system used in several states
Walker, nominated to the federal bench by President Obama in 2012 after four years as a state judge, had refused Democrats' request to suspend the ballot position law before the midterm election. Burt he also ruled against the GOP state elections administrator to require more widespread use of Spanish language ballots. And, before the voters approved the restoration of voting rights to felons, Walker had issued a ruling that could have eventually resulted in the same outcome.
Now, in addition to the ballot position case, the same judge is also overseeing several other election-related lawsuits — including those prompted after GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis this summer signed a sweeping elections package including new limits on felons' voting rights and requirements that college students say will make it much tougher for them to vote.
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An increasing number of the country's largest publicly traded companies are disclosing more than ever about political spending habits that the law permits them to keep secret.
That's the central finding of the fifth annual report from a group of academics and corporate ethicists, who say the average score among the biggest companies traded on American exchanges, the S&P 500, has gone up each year since 2014.
Though corporate political action committees must disclose their giving to candidates, those numbers are very often dwarfed by the donations businesses make to the trade associations and other outside groups that have driven so much of the steady rise in spending on elections. Conservatives say robust disclosure of these behaviors is the best form of regulating money in politics and is working fine, and this new report reflects that. Those who say campaign finance needs more assertive federal regulation will argue such corporate transparency is inconsistent and inadequate to the task, and the new report underscores that.
A year from the presidential election, U.S. intelligence agencies have adopted a new framework for how they will inform candidates, groups and the public about attempts to disrupt our country's elections by foreign operatives.
But the one-page summary of the plan, released late last week, is so general that it remains unclear what the intelligence community plans to do if and when it discovers something suspicious.
The summary by the director of national intelligence states that the federal government will "follow a process and principles designed to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that notification decisions are consistent, well-informed and unbiased."
The new framework is designed to prevent a repeat of some of what happened after the 2016 election.