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Damaging Democracy in Florida: What Are Phantom Candidates?

Created: 13 July, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
2 min read

The Naples Daily News Editorial Board penned a piece earlier this month condemning the widespread practice of “phantom candidacies,” which play an unfortunate role of shutting too many voters out of the elections process.

What are phantom candidates? Simply put, they are write-in candidates who file in local elections throughout Florida where only members of a single party are running in the race, but they don’t actively campaign.

They don’t raise money. They don’t put up yard signs. They don’t try to garner voter support. These candidates, however,  play a sinister role in elections, and that is to keep primary elections closed.

Florida, by law, has closed primaries. However, state law requires primaries to open to all voters in county races when candidates of only a single party are running, and the race is decided in that primary election.

However, the simplest way for the dominant party to keep its primary closed is to have a write-in candidate file, thus ensuring the election is decided by the party and its members only.

“The practice is more common in areas like Southwest Florida, where one party dominates, and the minority party doesn’t always field a candidate. In Lee and Collier counties, it is the Republican Party, but it happens in Democratic strongholds too,” writes Naples Daily.

“The minority party and voters with no party affiliation will counter that having the choice of a write-in candidate in the general election is really no choice at all and that they should have a voice in who serves in important offices…”

Independent Voter News featured another example of this recently out of St. John’s County where only two candidates of a single party had filed in the sheriff’s race. However, a write-in candidate emerged just hours before the filing deadline to ensure over 90,000 voters had no meaningful  say in the election.

“The ‘write-in loophole’ is used by Democratic and Republican consultants, candidates, and campaign managers across Florida to trigger closed primaries. It’s one of many (many!) dirty tricks used to reduce the voice of the people,” tweeted John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries.

It is another example of how the rules have been set up by the parties to maintain control over the electoral process. Even a rule that would seemingly give more voters a say in primaries has an easily exploitable loophole that the parties can use to disenfranchise huge segments of the voting population.

Florida voters will have a chance to adopt nonpartisan open primaries for statewide and legislative primary elections in November under Amendment 3. This would ensure all candidates and voters participate on a single primary ballot. 

Nonpartisan primaries will become law in Florida if approved by 60% of voters. It would open the taxpayer-funded process up to millions of voters without conditioning meaningful participation in elections on joining a private organization.