Election season for Florida community associations is right around the corner.  One returning question is whether a candidate for director can create a new name to “win” the jostle for being at the top, the first name on the ballot.  The answer seems to be yes, especially for Florida homeowners’ associations, so long as the new name does not deceive or confuse the voters.

In a judicial election dispute that could have application to Florida community associations, recently a Florida appellate court ruled that a candidate for circuit court judge could hyphenate his middle and last name in order to be listed first on the ballot.  The facts in Donoho v. Allen-Rosner, 43 Fla. L. Weekly D 1987 (Fla. 4th DCA, August 24, 2018) indicate that Melissa Donoho and Jason Allen Rosner were among four candidates running for circuit court judge.  Rosner sought to have his name placed on the ballot as “Jason Allen-Rosner” even though he had not used his name that way when he previously ran for judge.

Donoho filed a complaint to prevent Rosner from using a hyphenated name in order to place his name first.  The trial court concluded that Rosner was not precluded from using the hyphenated form of his name and declined to enter a temporary injunction.

The Florida appellate agreed with the decision of the trial court, finding that Rosner did not create an invalid surname when he added the hyphen.  Why? Because Rosner’s new name did not attempt to deceive or confuse voters.  A candidate is free to choose how his or her name will appear on the ballot so long as he or she does not attempt to confuse the voters into thinking he or she is someone else.  As the court stated:

[A] candidate for elective office has a great deal of latitude in choosing how to be listed on the ballot—the candidate need not use his/her “legal name” or the name that the candidate generally uses for identification.

Notably, Florida’s judicial election law does not require the use of a surname found on an official document, such as birth certificate or driver’s license.

As communities gear up for election season, it is important to note that a candidate for director may have latitude to use a form of their name on the ballot so long as they do not deceive or confuse the voters.  Florida homeowners’ associations do not have a statute or state regulation concerning names.  Application of the Donoho decision indicates that a candidate for homeowners’ association director does not have to use the name that appears on his or her driver’s license or birth certificate.

On the other hand, Florida condominium associations may have a narrower path because they must comply with Florida Administrative Code Rule 61B-23.0021(9).  This Rule requires a condominium association ballot to list candidates by “surname”; however, the Rule does not define the source of the surname, whether a birth certificate, marriage certificate, deed, drivers’ license, or otherwise.

Will we see director candidate’s obtaining name change judgments?  There have been many strange circumstances in elections, association elections being no exception.

As a footnote, ballot placement may not be that important.  The person who placed first in the primary election with 43.18 percent of the vote was listed third on the ballot.  Rosner placed second with 22.09 percent of the vote.   These two candidates will move on to the November runoff election.  Donoho and the fourth candidate were eliminated and will not move on to the runoff election.

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