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Proposed constitutional amendment would set up jungle primaries in Florida

Should it pass, the system would kick in Jan. 1, 2024.

A pair of proposals from the All Voters Vote (AVV) committee would open up Florida’s primary elections to all voters, even those not affiliated with a political party, by setting up a jungle primary system starting in 2024.

The campaign was first reported in Wednesday’s edition of Sunburn.

“Florida’s current system of excluding the vast majority of voters from participating in most important elections is just wrong,” said Eugene Stearns, founding partner of Stearns Weaver Miller. Stearns is one of several people hoping to spearhead the effort.

“The All Voters Vote initiative will change how we conduct elections ensuring that everyone who is properly registered can cast a ballot in elections that matter.”

Should AVV’s initiative be successful, all candidates in Florida elections would appear on a single ballot, regardless of party. The top two vote-getters would then move on to the general election, again, regardless of party.

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That would allow for some sort of competition between, for instance, Republicans in a heavily GOP district. Normally, the general election would be a walk for whoever emerged from the Republican primary.

In AVV’s system, it’s possible for two Republicans to advance, allowing for the general election to be more competitive.

The initiative is made up of two similar amendments. One would open up Florida’s federal elections for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. The other would target state-level elections for Governor, the cabinet and the Legislature.

“I have watched with frustration how Florida politicians live in fear of being ‘primaried,’ ” said health care executive Mike Fernandez, who’s also helping to lead the effort.

“They know what is right but can’t do what is right because of fear of retribution. Requiring candidates to face all voters who live in their districts is not just fair to all voters, it will allow our elected officials to listen to everyone, not just the loudest and meanest voices. Letting all voters vote is the essence of democracy.”

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The effort is similar to legislation filed by Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader of Delray Beach. In January, Rader put forth a bill to adopt a “jungle primary,” similar to the system in California.

“This effort will fundamentally transform our state, will break down extreme partisan silos and allow our state and our country to move forward for the good of everyone,” said another backer of the initiative, Miami businessman Carlos M. de la Cruz Sr.

“The many voters like me who have refused to associate themselves with one party or the other must be given the same right to participate in elections as those who chose a party affiliation and the State will be far better for listening to those voters.”

The “jungle primary” system would also help address the “write-in” loophole. As it stands now, even with separate party primaries, those elections are open to all voters if only one candidate appears on the primary ballot.

But political parties can also recruit a write-in candidate in an effort to “close” the primary, shutting out the rest of the electorate. That work-around would disappear under the AVV’s proposal.

“This system has been proven to ensure that the voice of every voter is heard in every election,” said AVV Chair Glenn Burhans.

“Today we take the first step in changing the way Florida conducts elections by submitting the petitions to the Florida Secretary of State Division of Elections for preliminary review and format approval. Once that approval is certified, we will begin gathering the necessary petitions so that this common-sense idea can be submitted to voters in the 2020 General Election.”

For the initiatives to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, AVV must obtain 76,620 petition signatures. Once that is done, the group must earn 766,200 signatures for them to be placed on the 2020 ballot.

Should they earn 60 percent approval to pass, the system would kick in on January 1, 2024, in time for that year’s primaries.

The proposals’ titles and ballot summaries are below:

“All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for United States Senate and House of Representatives.”

Ballot summary: “Allows all registered voters to vote in primaries for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for an office, including party nominated candidates, appear on the same primary ballot. Two highest vote-getters advance to general election. If only two candidates qualify, no primary is held, and winner is determined in general election. Candidate’s party affiliation may appear on ballot as provided by law.”

“All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet.”

Ballot summary: “Allows all registered voters to vote in primaries for the state legislature, governor, and cabinet regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for an office, including party nominated candidates, appear on the same primary ballot. Two highest vote-getters advance to general election. If only two candidates qualify, no primary is held and the winner is determined in general election. Candidate’s party affiliation may appear on ballot as provided by law.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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