Fl Democrats, Republicans unite against amendment allowing independents to vote in primary elections

By: - October 2, 2019 3:57 pm
early voting booth

Voting booths.

Representatives from both the Florida Republican and Democratic parties filed legal briefs this week with the Florida Supreme Court registering opposition to the proposed “All Voters Vote” constitutional amendment.

Florida is a “closed primary” state, meaning only voters registered with the Democratic or Republican parties can vote in party primary elections for the Legislature, governor and Cabinet. That excludes all non-party-affiliated voters (NPAs), who now represent nearly one third of registered voters in Florida.

The proposed amendment would allow all registered voters to vote in primary elections, but with a twist: All candidates for a specific office would appear on the same ballot, with the two biggest vote-getters advancing to the general election.

That’s known as a “top-two” or “jungle primary” system, and it could mean that two Republicans or two Democrats could end up on the same general election ballot. That’s exactly what would have happened had this system had been in place in 2018, when Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam received more votes overall than Andrew Gillum, the-top ranking Democrat in his party’s five-person race.

“As much as I’d like to see Republicans in every office across Florida, this result would have severely limited the choice of millions of Floridians,” state GOP chairman Joe Gruters said.

“The ballot title and summary mislead voters into thinking that all this amendment does is open up our current party primaries to NPAs. The truth is far from that,” Republican general counsel Ben Gibson said in a written statement. “What the amendment really does is abolish party primaries and limit the choice of votes in the general election.”

Not surprisingly, the Florida Democratic Party also opposes the proposed constitutional amendment.

“We support the democratic process and a system that gives voters more opportunities to choose a candidate that reflects their values. This ballot initiative would do the opposite,” said Democratic chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. “A proposal which eliminates the chance for a Democrat to make the ballot is not democratic.”

Florida is in the minority of (nine) states that have completely closed primary elections. The other 41 states operate some form of an open or not completely closed primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Also voicing opposition is Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose office has been active in speaking out against several proposed 2020 constitutional amendments.  On Monday, Moody wrote in a filing with the court that the proposal would give party bosses “sole discretion” over the party candidate nominating process.

“The primary process was adopted to eliminate the good-ole-boys clubs of yesteryear, when party brass in smoke-filled rooms chose the party’s candidates,” Moody wrote. “While this proposed ballot question purports to improve upon Florida’s system for electing leaders, the ballot title and summary hide the fact that it would explicitly allow political parties to select candidates through a closed process.”

Glenn Burhans Jr. is the Chair of All Voters Vote. He says it’s all about making voting more accessible.

“Both parties should check their math because they exclude the 3.6 million registered voters that were blocked from voting in the 2018 primaries,” he told the Phoenix in an email. “We should not be surprised that both parties continue to exclude non-party affiliated voters from their consideration.”

The measure already has submitted more than 703,000 valid signatures to the Florida Division of Elections. It needs 766,200 qualified verified signatures by February to qualify for the ballot. That’s if the measure survives a review of its ballot language by the state’s high court.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.