A plan to close what’s known as Florida’s “write-in loophole” won a preliminary OK from the Constitution Revision Commission on Monday.
Commissioners voted 21-12 to send the proposal (P11) to the body’s Style and Drafting Committee for preparation as a ballot question. The proposal would still face a final vote afterward.
Commissioner Sherry Plymale, who filed the measure, said the current write-in system is responsible for “delegitimizing elections.”
Her measure would “let all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation,” vote in a primary election “if all the candidates … have the same party affiliation and the winner will be opposed only by one or more write-in candidates in the general election.”
Here’s how it works now: A Florida primary is open to all voters if candidates from other parties don’t qualify to run.
The 1997-98 CRC placed an amendment on the ballot, passed by 64 percent, that “allows all voters to participate in primary elections when all candidates belong to the same party and will have no opposition in the general election.”
But state elections officials have since opined that a write-in candidate qualifying for a general election in a race keeps a primary closed.
Here’s how political parties and others have gamed the system: They’ve been known to line up a political novice to file as a write-in to close a primary, which usually benefits the incumbent.
On average, primary elections in 10 of 67 counties will be closed because of write-ins, Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards previously told commissioners.
Some voters also indirectly game the system by registering with a party just so they can vote in a primary, then switch back to no-party affiliated status, or NPA.
Nearly 27 percent—around 3.4 million—of Florida’s almost 12.9 million active registered voters were not registered with a political party, according to the state’s Division of Elections.
Even some of those in favor Monday were dubious about the need for the proposal.
“I’ll vote for it today because enough Floridians have called me about it … but I’m going to vote against it in November,” said Commissioner Chris Smith, a former Senate Democratic Leader. “People will always find a way to manipulate elections.”
But Commissioner Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville lawyer, said “voters (first) approved what we’re talking about 20 years ago.”
“This is nothing more than to fix than what was supposed to happen in 1998,” he said. “It should allow everyone to vote.”
Proposals that the commission clears for the November 2018 ballot still must get at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.