Democrats sue over a Florida law that puts Trump’s name ahead of rivals on the 2020 ballot

Critics say it's among several measures giving Republicans an unfair advantage in Florida's elections next year.

PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Volunteers look at ballots during a hand recount at the Supervisor of Elections Service Center on November 18, 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Saul Martinez/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Volunteers look at ballots during a hand recount at the Supervisor of Elections Service Center on November 18, 2018 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Democrats are challenging a Florida law that ensures President Donald Trump’s name appears at the top of the state’s 2020 election ballot, which they say gives him and fellow Republicans an unfair advantage in the vote.

The Democratic Party and civil rights groups in Florida are suing over a number of state laws meant to suppress the votes of people of color and give Republicans an edge in the state, which has had numerous whisker-close elections in its recent past.

This latest legal challenge, filed by Florida voters and several Democratic groups last year at U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, seeks to end a nearly 70-year-old law mandating that candidates belonging to the governor’s political party be listed first on the ballot. A four-day federal court trial began in the case on Monday.

Democrats argue that people sometimes decide their vote based on where a candidate’s name appears on the ballot, a phenomenon known as “position bias.”


“Candidates of the Governor’s political party receive the benefits of position bias, creating an unfair and artificial electoral advantage” the lawsuit stated. 

“Currently, Republican Party candidates routinely and without exception receive the advantage of position bias in Florida’s partisan elections,” the lawsuit continued. “Because a Republican has held the position of Florida Governor for 20 years, this advantage has continued, unabated, for two decades.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican Governors Association meanwhile, are defending Florida’s Secretary of State and the state law in the legal battle. Republicans in their court filings argued that the law favors “no one and nothing,” Politico reported.

Republicans say that Democrats can’t prove that the organization of ballots under the law has affected the outcome of an election and are simply sore losers, according to the Politico report.

Florida’s statewide elections often have been decided by razor-thin margins. Last November, Republican Ron DeSantis defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race for governor by around just 30,000 votes.


In what is considered a pivotal swing state during presidential campaigns, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Florida by around 100,000 votes in 2016. And George W. Bush famously defeated Al Gore following a contentious recount of the state’s ballots that ultimately was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Florida Republicans have history of suppressing the votes of likely Democratic voters during those close elections. For instance, during last November’s midterm elections, 4,000 absentee ballots were initially discarded because election officials determined that the voters’ signature on the ballot did not exactly match the signature on state files.

The position bias lawsuit was filed by several Democratic election strategy groups and Florida voters and being represented by election lawyer Marc Elias of the firm Perkins Coie.

The suit argues Republicans gain an advantage as high as 5.4 percentage points by having their candidates at the top of the ballot. It proposes switching to a model used in Ohio and other states, which rotates the names on the ballot in different precincts.

The lawsuit is just the latest legal challenge seeking to remove barriers to voting in Florida. Numerous lawsuits are challenging a new state law that forces 1.5 million voters who served time in prison to pay off all their court fines and fees before being allowed to cast a ballot.

The law is expected to prevent tens of thousands of Floridians from access to the ballot despite the passage last fall of Amendment Four restoring the vote to people with felony convictions. It has been compared to a modern day poll tax.

This month, the League of Women’s Voters, the Andrew Goodman Foundation and several students also sued the state over a new law that requires a certain number of “permitted parking” spaces at early voting locations. That law, the suit claims, is unconstitutional and makes it harder for college students to vote on campus.


And recently, a federal judge ordered dozens of Florida counties to provide Spanish-language ballots and election materials to Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria and now reside in the state.