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Federal judge confirms: No FL-Dem presidential primary in March


Any chance that registered Democratic Party voters in Florida would participate in this March’s presidential primary ballot ended last Friday when a federal judge rejected a Tampa attorney’s bid for a preliminary injunction.

The move might have allowed Secretary of State Cord Byrd to place the name of three other Democrats on the March 19 presidential primary preference ballot in addition to President Joe Biden. But that didn’t happen.

Michael Steinberg, a former chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, filed a lawsuit last month, claiming that the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) had violated his constitutional rights as a voter when they chose to only place Biden on the ballot back in November.

But Federal Judge Allen Winsor ruled on Friday that Steinberg had failed to clearly establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of his case.

“[H]e has not shown that his asserted injury – the absence of other candidates on the ballot—is redressable by an injunction against the present Defendants. This means he has not shown a likelihood that he has standing to pursue his claims,” Winsor wrote in his decision. “Second, he has not shown a likelihood that there is a constitutional violation at all because the decision at issue was the FDP’s decision to certify only one candidate, and the FDP is not a state actor.”

Steinberg had said specifically that the party’s decision to exclude Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips, New Age author Marianne Williamson and media personality Cenk Uygur was “arbitrary and capricious.” His suit listed the FDP and Secretary of State Cord Byrd as defendants.

Steinberg told the Phoenix on Saturday that he felt that Judge Winsor’s decision was in error, “but not necessarily unreasonable.”

“In my opinion, based on a combination of similar types of cases, the actions of the state party, constitute state action, for purposes of redressing violations of the First and 14th amendment,” Steinberg told the Phoenix in an email. “Had the judge found that the state party violated my 14th and First Amendment rights, and directed the Secretary of State to certify the names of the candidates to the supervisors of elections, the supervisors would have had time to print ballots for the March 19, 2024 election. The courts have the equitable authority to modify the timetables of submitting the names of the candidates to the supervisors of elections.”

Steinberg added that he never felt that the ultimate outcome in the March primary election would have been affected by the decision by the federal courts. But he says he’s concerned that the issue could resurface again in the future.

“For example, let’s say next election cycle, Dean Phillips, or Marianne Williamson want to be on the ballot and the Florida Democratic Party decides that only Gavin Newsom and Amy Klobuchar are recognized Democratic candidates,” he said. “Florida has 250 pledged delegates. Without an appellate court, stepping in and clarifying whether the actions of a state party, in selecting which candidates may appear on the presidential primary ballots, constitutes state action, the Florida Democratic Party chair or executive committee will have the unfettered discretion as to the pool of candidates from whom we can vote.”

The Florida Democratic Party has said that that it followed its “standard process” in selecting who would appear on the presidential primary ballot. A spokesperson for the party said in December that when the State Executive Committee met in late October to vote on who would appear on the ballot, the only candidate to receive votes was Joe Biden.

Florida law says that when a party submits only one candidate, that candidate is deemed the winner, and there is no primary election.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.


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  • Cat L

    This is a disappointing outcome. It strikes me that this is a real limitation to the process of democracy. Clearly they do not have any more confidence in their candidate than the public does, otherwise they wouldn't feel the need to assure an outcome in alignment with their interests. Do not like.

    Thursday, January 18 Report this