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What Would Happen if Florida Primaries Were Nonpartisan?

by Florida Independent Voting.Org, published


Wake Up America!  “You and I, as citizens have the power to set this country’s course.  You and I as citizens have the obligation to shape the debate of our time not only with the votes we cast but with the voices we lift in defense or our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”  With these words President Obama challenged us all (Second inaugural address on Jan 21, 2013) to engage.   Where do we start?

We have lots of problems in our Democracy: Citizens United, campaign financing, voter suppression; gerrymandering, a broken government, and the list goes on. Independent Voting, Move to Amend, United Republic’s Represent Us, the Coffee Party and many others are attacking the problem of hyper partisanship in Washington from important perspectives. Florida Independent Voting has chosen a different path.  We are focusing on the type of primary election believing that Top 2 Open Primaries provide an opportunity to change political culture and voting patterns, over time, when all voters have more choices and more influence in primary elections.

In the early days of our country only landed white males could vote.  It took until 1920 to ratify women’s right to vote (19th Amendment).  How long will it take to treat independent voter in a fair and equal way?  Everyone regardless of party affiliation or no party affiliation can vote in general elections BUT not in closed primaries, which we have in Florida, unless we register with a party.  The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a comprehensive list of primary types in all 50 states.  Edward Bonnette, a regular IVN contributor, provided an excellent explanation of nonpartisan versus open primaries earlier this month.

Let’s examine some facts about Top 2 Open Primaries.

First, if Florida had Top 2 Open Primaries, over 2.8 million no party affiliation or independent registered voters could vote in a primary.  They represent ~25% of registered voters in Florida.

Second, In March 2008 the US Supreme Court, in a 7 – 2 decision, declared the Washington State Top 2 Open Primary constitutional overturning a prior Ninth Circuit Court decision.  Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority said, “Overturning Washington's Top 2 plan would have been an "extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people."

Third, there would be no “crossover” voting as in “open primaries” because ALL candidates for office appear on a single ballot that ALL voters receive to pick the best candidate regardless of party affiliation or no party affiliation.  In other words, voters chose, not parties.

Fourth, surprising results can occur with Top 2.  In California’s first Top 2 open primary election 14 of 53 California Congressional seats went to new candidates and 7 California incumbents lost their seats.

Fifth, the “primary out” strategy talked about in the context of Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge or the National Rifle Association’s threats to incumbent Congress members will be mitigated through self-identified candidate choice to run, not party primary politics.

Sixth, Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting in her address to the National Convention of Independents in February 2012, stated, “Independents are who we say we are.  We’re independent.  And as simple as it seems, this is very difficult for the parties to hear.”  In a February 26, 2013 Pew Research Center poll independents provided a mixed view of both major parties.  Independents said the Democratic Party was more open to change than the Republican Party (54% vs. 39%).  Independents said both Democrats (45%) and Republicans (43%) were not looking out for the country’s future.  Independents said both Democrats (51%) and Republicans (65%) were out of touch.  The bottom line is that Independent views can influence Top 2 primary elections by introducing competition for independent votes.

In our next Blog we will feature more facts about implementing legislation for nonpartisan top 2 open primaries in Florida.

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