Here’s the Ballot in Florida’s Fascinating Senate Race

Florida’s U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Mel Martinez last year has generated an interesting race.  Conventional wisdom was that if former Governor Jeb Bush wanted that seat it was his for the taking.  After he said he wouldn’t run, current Governor Charlie Crist announced he would run for the Senate.

Crist was elected governor in 2006, running as a Republican, and had Bush decided to run for the US senate seat, undoubtedly Crist would have run for a second term as governor, and as incumbent would have been the strong favorite to win a second term.  But the open senate seat was too tempting, so he announced for that race, with the strong support of the Republican Party of Florida.  To give himself an extra edge, Crist appointed his long-time friend George LeMieux to fill out the remainder of Martinez’s term, with LeMieux making the promise that he would not run to keep that seat.  Everything seemed to be going Crist’s way in that race, but…

As many readers will know, Republican Marco Rubio, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and a Tea Party favorite, also entered that race.  Top party officials discouraged him, saying they didn’t want to have a bruising primary that might hinder the Republican Party in the general election, but Rubio’s candidacy gained strength and by early 2010 he appeared to be out-polling Crist.  The Party’s wish to avoid a bruising primary came true when Crist left the Republican Party to run as an independent.

We know that election law is stacked to favor incumbents, and to favor the major party candidates over independents and minor party candidates.  Florida’s ballot for the US Senate race is a good example.  Here is the list of candidates voters will see on November 2.

  • Marco Rubio (REP)
  • Kendrick B. Meek (DEM)
  • Alexander Andrew Snitker (LIB)
  • Bernie DeCastro (CPF)
  • Sue Askeland (NPA)
  • Bruce Ray Riggs (NPA)
  • Bobbie Bean (NPA)
  • Rick Tyler (NPA)
  • Charlie Crist (NPA)
  • Lewis Jerome Armstrong (NPA)

By Florida law, the first candidate on the ballot is the one from the governor’s party.  Governor Charlie Crist was elected as a Republican, so that puts his nemesis, Marco Rubio, at the top of the ballot.  Florida law specifies that next on the ballot is the candidate from the other major party, which is Democrat Kendrick Meek.  Then minor party candidates are listed, which puts Libertarian Party candidate Alexander Snitker third.  Candidates with no party affiliation are listed below those affiliated with parties, in the order in which they qualified.  Crist was second-to-last to qualify for the senate race, so will be second from the bottom on the ballot.

I am no fan of Charlie Crist, but you can see how Florida election law puts him at a distinct disadvantage.  You have to look pretty hard to even find his name in that list of ten candidates; meanwhile, Marco Rubio has the advantage not only of a major party affiliation, but of having his name appear first on the ballot — thanks to Crist having been elected governor as a Republican!

At the moment polling shows Rubio to have the edge in this race, with Crist running second and Meek running third.  But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Meek get more votes on election day than Crist, partly because of people who will always vote Democrat no matter what, and partly because of Crist’s hidden position on the ballot.

It is really hard for third party and independent candidates to win elections, partly because of partisan voters, but also because election laws work against candidates who aren’t affiliated with one of the two major parties.  Florida’s list of candidates for US Senate is but one example of the way election law works against minor party and no-party candidates.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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