Do Florida Democrats Have a Death Wish? No, It Only Looks Like It

After the fiasco of the 2000 election, in which the Republicans claimed that all they were demanding was punctilious compliance with formal rules, you might think that the apparent failure of the GOP to file its ballot papers on time (combined with a Republican official turning a blind eye to the error!) in Florida presented a golden opportunity to the Democrats.

Oddly, that's not what leading state Democrats seem to think: Decision2004: Did Bush camp err on ballot papers?:

Florida Democratic Party chairman Scott Maddox said he knew the president's certificate of nomination did not reach the state until Sept. 2, but he said he decided not to make an issue of it.

“To keep an incumbent president off the ballot in a swing state the size of Florida because of a technicality, I just don't think would be right,” Maddox said.

Why not seize the opportunity to beat up the GOP a little and stoke memories of the 2000 elections?

One reason might be that the state Democrats are, by and large, cowed.

Another reason might be that the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature and the Governorship. So they would simply call a special session and change the rule. Which I think would be fully legal. Then they'd stoke their base.

Once you look at it that way, it's a tougher call. But I'd take the chance anyway if it were up to me. A mistake of this type fits the 'Bush incompetence' meme (and the hypocrisy meme) that the Democrats should be pushing at every chance they get. Just imagine that the shoe were on the other foot and ask yourself if Karl Rove would sue?

The Democratic move would be most plausible if there were other people with standing to raise the issue. But answering that question requires a much greater understanding of Florida election law than I command. All I can do is shoot off a couple emails to people who might know….

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7 Responses to Do Florida Democrats Have a Death Wish? No, It Only Looks Like It

  1. Mojo says:

    I think they made the right call not to challenge. First, it’s the right thing to do morally. You wouldn’t be using the law to correct a wrong but simply because you could. Second, I don’t think it would work anyway because of the way the law is written. Third, I think it would cause voters all over the country to turn away from the Kerry campaign for perceived dirty tricks, causing him to lose many other states that he could have won anyway.

  2. It’s not whether the Dems should have tried to throw Bush off the ballot, but whether they should have mocked the Republicans publicly for their stupidity. That they refused to do that [!!?] amazes me.
    Do they know -do they have any idea- what politics is?

  3. peter jung says:

    Michael,

    Glad that you are addressing this issue. I’d like to see the Democrats raise a little hell on this one, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that they have some fire in the belly. There is no doubt that if Kerry had filed late the White House would have dispatched a brigade of lawyers already.

  4. fiat lux says:

    This is why I fear Bush really will win in November. Where is the Democratic gumption? Talk about a golden opportunity to stick it to the Republicans wasted!

    And yes, Rove et al would have sued without a 2nd though. And they would have won too.

  5. Sorry guys. There’s just no cause of action remotely suggesting removal of the Republican platform from the ballot based on the Governor’s 24 hour late Certificate of Nomination. First and foremost, Fl. Stat. 97.023 gives a pretty thorough set of administrative remedies to exhaust if any person is aggrieved in the process, requires an informal dispute resolution process, and clearly sets up a system which exists to protect people from unfairly being kept off a ballot, but does not operate to remove a candidate.

    More importantly, however, as much as I first revolted at the thought of campaign tactics having moral content, that’s precisely how Florida courts see the issue. While it ends at the point the name is on the ballot, there is a constitutional privilege of a properly nominated candidate to have their name on the ballot, as there is a right held by each and every Florida voter to see their candidate’s name clearly printed there. Admittedly this line of cases, e.g. Nelson v. Robinson, 301 So.2d 508 and others, don’t hold water post Gore v. Harris and others, but the privilege was never suspended.

    The fact of the matter is, scour the case law, and the only requirement you’ll find is that the party register with the secretary of state. Late filing of the secretary’s list can’t block a candidate’s right to appear on the ballot. But more importantly, from a political standpoint, can any democrat really consider it a good idea to suggest that our Republican executive has the power to, by its own delay, remove a candidate from the ballot? Does this seem like it’ll result in good things?

  6. Pingback: Florida Law Weblog

  7. Rodger says:

    The Kerry campaign should have pointed to this months ago — but for an entirely different reason. The Republican Party knowingly scheduled its convention later-than-usual. Florida, in fact, wasn’t the only state that posed filing deadline problems. However, most other states changed their rules months ago to allow for the new context.

    The Republican decision, however, also had a direct adverse consequence for Kerry. The Republicans could continue spending cash through August without facing federal caps because their candidate had not yet accepted either his party’s nomination or the cash and the cap.

    This created an imbalance in the law.

    Kerry should have been arguing months ago that the same sort of good faith granted Bush in Florida and elsewhere should also be extended to federal campaign spending.

    Bottom line: He should have been arguing for a change in spending rules to allow him to use primary season cash until he had an opponent. Instead, Kerry sat on the sidelines during the month of August to save capped federal cash for September and October.

    The federal spending triggers/caps should begin when both candidates accept their party nominations.

    —–

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