Push to put open primaries amendment on 2020 ballot begins


A proposed ballot amendment to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in partisan primaries didn’t get the green light from the Constitution Revision Commission this year, but on Wednesday a group committed to getting the proposal in front of voters in 2020.

Florida Fair and Open Primaries said it was launching two petition drives to correct what it sees as the mass disenfranchisement of the Sunshine State’s 3.4 million independent voters.

“We believe voters should have been afforded the opportunity to determine the fate of an open primaries amendment. Despite the failure of the CRC to forward an open primaries amendment to this year’s ballot, voters may have an opportunity to decide in the future. We are currently engaged in a citizens’ initiative to place an amendment on the 2020 ballot.” said FFAOP director Steve Hough.

“At issue is whether Florida citizens believe the fundamental right to vote should be extended to all registered voters in every election. As the vast majority of races are decided in a primary election, by a tiny fraction of the electorate, we believe they will agree.”

Many elections are indeed decided in the primary due to the partisan leans of districts for offices ranging from the state House to Congress. FFAOP said it believes only one out of six Florida general elections were competitive two years ago.

To combat that, current law allows all voters to cast a ballot in a primary race if all candidates for an office belong to the same party. But a loophole in law shuts down primaries if any candidate, even a write-in, qualifies for an election. The so-called write-in loophole has been abused by both sides of the aisle, and will disenfranchise more than 400,000 voters in 2018 state legislative races alone.

FFAOP’s first fix: Institute a “Top-Two Primary” in Florida.

The system is currently in place in California, Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state, and essentially handles partisan primaries the same way as nonpartisan ones are currently handled in Florida — all candidates running for an office go on the same primary ballot and all voters pick their favorite from an unabridged menu.

The top-two vote getters, whether they’re members of the same political party or not, then move on to a head-to-head in the general election.

The group pointed to a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling that found 74 percent of Florida voters — including supermajorities of Republican, Democratic, and independent voters — want unaffiliated voters included in primary elections. That level of support puts it far ahead of the 60 percent threshold ballot amendments must hit in order to pass.

FFAOP’s second fix: Cut off funding for closed primaries.

The group says requiring taxpayers to shoulder the financial cost of partisan primaries isn’t fair unless all voters are allowed to participate.

“There has been a growing sense among voters in Florida and across the country that no one is really listening. Well we’re standing up and making the political establishment listen. Florida voters are tired of paying millions of dollars for primary elections that exclude over a quarter of our fellow citizens,” said FFAOP outreach director Tom Cullen.

Whether or not partisan primaries are fair, it’s not exactly clear how much they cost. The Florida Division of Elections was allocated $20.8 million in the state’s 2018-19 budget (pp. 398-399), but there’s no primary election line item

Each of FFAOP’s proposals would need to collect 766,200 valid signatures by February 2020 to make the 2020 ballot. To that end, the group said it already has volunteers in 14 counties making phone calls and collecting petition signatures.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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