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A Florida judge exercised judicial restraint and deference to the legislature in an election ruling yesterday, but don't expect the GOP to jump with joy over it. Leon County judge Janet Ferris ruled that polling places cannot post signs explaining that Mark Foley's votes will count for Joe Negron in the midterm election November 7th:
A judge on Wednesday barred election supervisors from posting signs in polling places explaining that votes cast for former Representative Mark Foley would go to the substitute candidate.
The judge, Janet E. Ferris of Circuit Court in Leon County, issued her decision days before voters can begin casting ballots under the early voting system of Florida.
Judge Ferris, ruling on a complaint by the Florida Democratic Party, said the Legislature had not authorized such postings in its law on replacement candidates. The law requires the original candidate’s name to be the ballot if the change is made after the primary results have been certified.
“The court is not at liberty to question the Legislature’s decision or its judgment in enacting the statute,” the judge wrote. “And there can be little doubt that it understood the confusion likely to result where voters know that the person reflected on the ballot is no longer seeking the position.”
Interpreting the statute “as permitting the proposed intrusion into the polling place,” the judge added, would be “an extrapolation far beyond the Legislature’s words.”
Unfortunately, this is almost certainly the correct decision. When the Florida legislature passed the law mandating the primary as the deadline for ballot changes, it clearly had to know that they risked voter confusion if a candidate had to be replaced for any reason -- death, disqualification, or in this case, withdrawal and resignation. The legislature did not provide any remedies for this, and for good reason. They apparently wanted to eliminate the possibility of a Torricelli Option, where a bad candidate can get swapped out at the last minute by his or her party for a better one, one that voters have no time to vet before the general election.
Where does that leave the GOP in Foley's 16th District? Probably not in bad shape. The disastrous publicity surrounding the Foley scandal has also informed voters in the district of Negron's candidacy and the automatic application of Foley votes to Negron. Campaigners in the district will assuredly park themselves at the nearest perimeter allowed by law to inform voters of the rule, asking them to cast votes for the GOP. Foley's district has proven reliably Republican, and Negron should at least remain within striking distance of the race.
Florida's legislature should revisit this law, however, when it returns to session. If they insist on locking names on the ballot at the primary, then they should allow some sort of explanation at the polling station to inform voters how their votes will count when a candidate has been replaced for any reason. It sounds like a series of regulations passed at different times, and legislators didn't understand the impact each had on the other. Their intention of avoiding the kind of mischief pulled by the Democrats in New Jersey in 2002 is laudable, but the result hurts voter ability to understand how best to select their representation.
And Judge Ferris did get this right -- it's the legislature's job to fix the problem, and not the court's prerogative to modify laws to suit the purposes of the court. Republicans might be disappointed, but this is the kind of judicial restraint that we support.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» A Little Judicial Restraint Bites The GOP In Florida from Bill's Bites
A Florida judge exercised judicial restraint and deference to the legislature in an election ruling yesterday, but don't expect the GOP to jump with joy over it. Leon County judge Janet Ferris ruled that polling places cannot post signs explaining [Read More]
Tracked on October 19, 2006 8:22 AM
» The Knucklehead of the Day award from The Florida Masochist
Today's winner is Leon County Circuit Court Judge Janet Ferris. [Read More]
Tracked on October 19, 2006 9:38 AM
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