arrowSection 2.2 - Getting on the Ballot

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Edward B. Foley

Print Page

Nader in Florida

Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo will be on the presidential ballot in Florida in November, the Florida Supreme Court decided on September 17.

A lower court judge had ruled on September 8 to preliminarily enjoin the Florida Secretary of State from certifying Nader and Camejo as candidates in that state. The Nader campaign appealed the ruling to a court of appeals that concluded that the issue needed immediate resolution by the supreme court. Before it got to the Florida Supreme Court, the Secretary of State also appealed the lower court’s ruling and that set in motion an automatic stay provision that pertains to public bodies and officers in Florida; the stay counteracted the circuit court’s temporary injunction and the Secretary of State directed supervisors to include Nader on the ballot. After a reversal of that automatic stay by the court that originally granted the injunction, the Florida Supreme Court stayed all action by the county supervisors until it had made its decision.

The supreme court started the substance of its opinion—with six concurrences and a single dissent – by stating that the case “involves the constitutional right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs and the constitutional right of qualified voters to cast their votes effectively.” The court recognized that there needed to be a healthy balance between maintaining order in the election process and giving as many legitimate options to voters as possible.

While acknowledging that it is important to stay within the bounds of statutory law, the court found that “any doubt as to the meaning of statutory terms should be resolved broadly in favor of ballot access.” Statutory law itself had long recognized the right in Florida for candidates who are affiliated with a national party and who were nominated by that party to be granted ballot access. The major question the court had to answer was weather the Florida Reform Party was affiliated with a national Reform Party and whether the Nader/Camejo combination was actually nominated by the National Reform Party.

Since there was no definition in Florida law as to what a "national party" is, the court looked to other sources for a definition. The plain meaning of the phrase offered little help, definitions from those states that did include statutory provisions dealing with national parties varied wildly, and a Federal Elections Commission definition was thought to deal with wholly different aspects of election law. Finally the court decided that the relatively ambiguous nature of the phrases "national party" and "national convention" failed to put the Florida Reform Party on notice as to what exactly it would have had to have done to qualify their candidates. In the spirit of giving the benefit of the doubt to more ballot access rather than less, the Florida Supreme Court lifted the injunction that prohibited the Florida Secretary of State from certifying the Nader/Camejo ticket.