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Florida Democratic chair candidates weigh in on ‘open primaries’

Florida is one of just 13 states with a closed-primary election system, meaning only voters registered as a Republican or Democrat can participate in a primary election.

While that may have worked out just fine for the major political parties, many say it doesn’t work for the public, demonstrated by those increasingly opting to bypass the two major parties and register as “no party affiliation” or with a third party.

No-party-affiliation is the fastest growing segment of the electorate and is particularly popular with young people, with more than one out of every four Florida voters falling into that category.

The issue has been discussed among Democrats in Florida with increasing intensity in recent years, with no clear consensus. In advance of the election for chair Saturday in Orlando, Florida Politics reached out to the three candidates to get their take on this issue.

Stacey Patel, Brevard County Democratic Executive Committee Chair — Yes.

“As a Democrat, I believe in democracy and self-determination for all Floridians and believe voting is a right of every American. Nearly 3.5 million Floridians are disenfranchised due to closed primaries according to the League of Women Voters. I support opening our primaries to NPAs as an expression of our values as Democrats.”

“While I support opening Democratic primaries to NPAs, I do not support a ‘top-two’ primary.”

Alma Gonzalez, Hillsborough State Committeewoman — No.

“I’m very comfortable with our closed primary system, because it allows you to vet  those people who say they want to be part of me, and believe in the democratic principals which I believe.”

“I have been supportive of that. I haven’t seen any new data, or research that would indicate to me that we need to change that. I know that folks feel differently, because of the growing NPA folks, but I think that it’s incumbent upon me as a Democrat and as a  Democratic leader, go and persuade those folks to choose the democratic brand and if we’re not doing that, well, we have to do better.

Terrie Rizzo, Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee Chair — No.

“I do not favor open primaries.  Most Democrats I know (& likely most Republicans) don’t think that persons who are not members of the party should determine the party’s nominees. We are going to encourage as many NPA’s as possible to become Democrats and vote in the primary.”

“As such, I am open to the concept of same-day registration, which includes registration changes such as NPA to D.  There is strong evidence that same day/Election Day registration increases voter turnout. According to the data, immediately following the implementation of SDR, states usually see a boost in voter numbers. Same day registration states also tend to outperform other states in terms of turnout percentages. Multiple studies place the effect between an increase of 3 to 7 percent, with an average of a 5 percent increase. “

(Rizzo’s statement was sent to Florida Politics via Steve Hough, director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries).

Last month, Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) member Bill Schifino introduced a proposal to place a constitutional amendment on open primaries on the 2018 ballot. Advocates are calling on the entire Commission to embrace Schifino’s proposal, which would first need to pass the Ethics and Elections Committee of the CRC.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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