Several Democratic groups are contesting what they describe as the “position bias” of Florida’s ballot order, which gives Republicans the top spot on the ballot in partisan elections while the GOP controls the governor’s mansion.
The groups want a federal court to require — before the November general election — that Florida’s ballot placements be something more in line with Ohio, where the order of names are consistently rotated on ballots, or like New Jersey, Illinois and California, which have adopted random-selection ballot order systems.
In a complaint filed May 24 in federal district court in Gainesville, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee are among plaintiffs contending that “position bias” puts their party at a disadvantage.
“Because a Republican has held the position of Florida governor for 20 years, this advantage has continued, unabated, for two decades,” the complaint said.
According to the complaint, the top slot on the ballot gives Republican candidates a 2.7 percentage point “bump,” while Democratic candidates gain 1.96 percentage points when listed first. The gap is considered significant, as, for example, Rick Scott won by narrower margins in his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections.
“Position bias in favor of the first listed candidate on a ballot occurs because individuals have an implicit bias to pick the first choice in a set list,” the complaint said. “Position bias in the context of elections occurs most often when voters (1) lack information about candidates, or (2) are ambivalent towards the candidates, despite having information about them. In each of these scenarios, the order of candidates’ names on the ballot can be enough to nudge the voter to select the first listed candidate.”
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is named as the defendant in the case. The Department of State said in an email that it is simply following the law, which states “the names of the candidates of the party that received the highest number of votes for Governor in the last election in which a Governor was elected shall be placed first for each office on the general election ballot.”
The party placing second for the governor’s office gets the second slot. Minor parties get the following spaces based on the order in which they qualify, with independent candidates — again based on qualifying order — rounding out the ballot for each office.