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Emails & Opinions

Joe Henderson: Despite opposition, open primary concept has some good points

There must be a better way to run an election without freezing out about a quarter of Florida voters

A commentary Sunday in Florida Politics by Jeffrey Solomon was critical of the Democratic Party for its opposition to open primaries. He said it disenfranchises independent voters (true) and keeps the party from widening its base (debatable).

He said that’s why he left the party and became an independent.

The issue is not going away. There is a drive to place the issue on the ballot as an amendment in 2020 to the state constitution.

The question of whether to open primaries to all registered voters has done the impossible. Republicans and Democrats are actually united around something besides mom and apple pie. They oppose open primaries.

Republicans filed a legal brief against the “All Voters Vote” proposal.

“We have faith that the Florida Supreme Court will keep this misleading amendment off the ballot and that its contents are never brought forth again,” party Chair Joe Gruters said.

“A so-called ‘open primary’ in Florida would decimate voter choice and permit radicalization on both sides of the aisle.”

And there is this: a ballot overstuffed with candidates from both parties could split the vote among the best ones. That could make it easier for an incompetent foof to get just enough support to make the final ballot.

I get all that.

Permit me to offer another thing to consider, though. While there certainly are flaws in any open primary plan, I don’t agree that it would decimate voter choice. It would reduce party control over these elections, though.

It also might give candidates a way out of conforming to the ideological checklist we have now. Deep blue progressive Democrats or NRA-regimented Republicans might not have oversized influence.

Gwen Graham’s moderate credentials probably would have played well in a general election, but not so much in a closed primary where the bluest of blue Democrats were going to turn out.

The same goes for Adam Putnam, who tried to run as a Republican Rambo after years of reasoned, center-right leadership. It was not a good look.

But mostly it would let every registered voter have a say.

The current system favors candidates that are too progressive (looking at you, Andrew Gillum) or rigidly conservative. Neither one particularly appeals to me. Moderates don’t have much of a chance in a statewide primary, though.

I was an independent until last year when I reluctantly registered Democrat so I could vote in the primary. That’s a pretty sad reason, I admit, for sacrificing independence, but Florida doesn’t leave a person much choice.

There are 13.5 million registered voters in Florida, and 3.6 million have no party affiliation. That’s about one-quarter of eligible voters, but they have no say in choosing a candidate.

And, this just in, I believe most people — including many who have registered with a party — aren’t straight-line voters. They don’t believe either party has a copyright on wisdom.

They might like a little bit about Democrats and a little bit about Republicans. What’s wrong with that?

There should be a way to maintain primary integrity without freezing out about a quarter of the registered voters.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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