On Wednesday, October 4, I attended the first meeting of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission’s (CRC) Ethics and Elections Committee in Tallahassee. The Florida Constitution requires a CRC be impaneled every twenty years to review our State Constitution and accept input from the public.
As a result of the 1997-1998 CRC process, Florida voters approved an amendment that would open our primary elections to all voters when the winner of a primary did not face a challenger in the general election.
The intent of the amendment was clear; however, both major parties were able to circumvent the new law by inserting bogus write-in candidates as “opponents.” The practice was challenged, but a 2010 ruling stated that write-in candidates constituted viable opposition in a general election.
The current CRC held nine public hearings across the state earlier this year. In partnership with Open Primaries, my statewide, grassroots organization, Florida Fair and Open Primaries was able to turn out scores of people to testify in support of open primaries.
We then collected 6,090 signatures on a petition in support of a top-two open primary. The signatures were collected over a six-week period, and was remarkable due to the impact Hurricane Irma had on our state during that time.
At the meeting in Tallahassee, several County Supervisors of Elections were scheduled to make presentations to the committee concerning our state’s current primary process. After contacting the committee chair, I was allowed to address the committee and present our petition to the members.
The supervisors’ presentations accentuated the phenomenal growth of non-affiliated voters in our state, and they were in agreement that our closed primaries are the source of confusion among many voters, especially young voters and those who have had different experiences prior to moving to Florida.
You may view the video of the meeting here.
In the state of Florida, we now have 3.4 million non-affiliated voters representing 27% of our electorate. I believe the information provided to the committee at Wednesday’s meeting had an impact, and will reinforce the need to close the abominable “write-in loophole.”
Two committee members are supporting a proposal to close the write-in loophole, but I believe that is an issue that should have been resolved twenty years ago when the previous amendment was written and approved.
Although the intent was clear, partisans will always attempt to bend the rules to their advantage.
While that may be water under the bridge, the current CRC should not be content to merely correct inadequate language produced by the previous CRC.
Based on the explosion of non-affiliated voter registrations, I believe the CRC should recognize the new reality and take the bold step of forwarding an amendment to institute a top-two open primary.
Our proposal (#700575) would create a level playing field for both voters and candidates.
In a top-two open primary, candidates would have equal access to the primary ballot. All candidates would appear on a single ballot and all voters, regardless of affiliation, or lack thereof, would vote for the candidate of their choice.
The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election.
For some time, it has been my opinion that such a process presents our best hope for ending a system where gerrymandering and low voter turnout in primaries determine winners in 90% of our political contests.