In recent years, few issues have managed to unite Florida’s political parties. Not guns or budgets. Not even a pandemic. This year, however, both parties have united to shoot down an amendment that would fundamentally change the political landscape in Florida.
In their crosshairs is Amendment Three. The amendment would allow registered voters in 2024, regardless of party affiliation, to cast a ballot in primary elections for the Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet.
Moreover, the amendment would create a single primary race for each office. Candidates from all parties would appear on the same ballot for an office and only the top two candidates would advance to the general election.
The amendment has vocal, unified opposition from its left and right flank.
“It’s not only the Republican Party of Florida,” said GOP chairman Joe Gruters. “The Democratic Party of Florida has also come out against this. This is an attempt to push away our right to assemble and come together as a party to choose the nominees we best believe represent us.”
Florida is currently only one of nine states with a closed partisan primary, meaning only registered party members can vote in their own party’s primary.
Gruters said there is nothing wrong with that as Florida law allows a person to register to vote or change party affiliation up to 29 days before an election.
“There’s no restrictions and you could change as many times as you want,” he said. “So, if you like a certain candidate, you could certainly go follow that political party. But it goes back to the fundamental right of parties to be able to choose our nominees.”
All Voters Vote Chairman Glenn Burhans, however, sees Florida’s closed primaries as problematic.
In his mind, closed primaries have contributed to voter isolation, dissatisfaction, divisive gridlock and more in Florida.
“The ramification of the current broken system is that lawmakers only have to answer to a tiny sliver of the electorate,” Burhans said. “In most cases that means only answering to either the very far left or the very far right. This leads to polarization, stagnation and hyper-partisanship.”
Additionally, Burhans believes All Voters Vote would force politicians to place constituents above party allegiance.
“When elected leaders have to answer to all voters in their respective districts, they can put their constituents, their own district and their own consciences ahead of party politics.”
Steve Vancore, a consultant for the All Voters Vote initiative, echoed those concerns.
“More and more seats in the Florida legislature are being decided by ever shrinking percentages of the electorate,” Vancore said. “That does not lead to good problem solving and good consensus building in the legislature.”
Vancore added that Floridians need to look no further than voter registration statistics to see symptoms of the problem.
According to him, there is a reason why more than 40% of newly registered voters in Florida affiliate with no party.
“The parties themselves are struggling to hold on to relevancy,” Vancore said. “Why is that? They come into the ballot and they think, oh, do I want to be a Democrat? Then they look to their right and go, I don’t want to be part of that gang either. And so, about half of new registered voters choose no party because they don’t like how far to the extreme they’ve gone.”
Gruters, on the other hand, dismisses those arguments.
“If you go back to the last cycle, we would have had Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis as the top two nominees,” Gruters said. “You’re going to exclude a lot more people from the process and from certain races by following this path and I don’t think it’s going to solve the issue that they’re trying to solve. It’s just going to confuse voters.”
“In all my years of service in the legislature, nobody’s come to me and asked me the push a policy like this,” Gruters added. “I think it’s being pushed by some disgruntled individuals who didn’t get their way and want to try to change the system to benefit their viewpoints.”
In 2016, the League of Women Voters released a comparative two-year study about the landscape of electoral politics in Florida and reported that voter participation in Florida primaries averaged 23% as compared to a national average of 27%.
The study also concluded that more than 3.4 million NPA and minor party voters were being excluded from voting in primaries, many of which were millennial voters.
“We in our study looked at the top two system and it’s the most popular citizen initiative because it is the easiest to understand,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The candidates with the top two votes move on to the general election and the best part is truly that all voters get to vote. It would significantly increase voter participation in the primary election and would allow for younger voters to participate.”
“The League is aware that both parties are opposed to this initiative, but we are concerned about the voters and their choices. The League is pro voter, not pro party,” Brigham said. “Our young people are the future of this country and we need them participating in their constitutional right to vote early on.”
In order to pass in November, Amendment Three will require a supermajority vote of 60%.
“The Republican Party of Florida is committed to doing whatever we can to beat this,” Gruters said. “They’re circumventing the role of the voters. I’m hopeful that people will see through their attempts to disrupt the system.”
The tall task of reaching a supermajority is not lost on Burhans.
“Getting 60% of the vote is never easy but we are confident that if we effectively communicate to voters that this is in their benefit — allowing them to vote in elections that matter — we will prevail,” Burhans said. “We also expect the usual legal challenges to anything that upsets the status quo, but we also expect to prevail and ensure that all voters will be allowed to vote.”
Since 2017, the All Voters Vote campaign has raked in nearly $7 million in contributions including two $2.25 million donations from MBF Healthcare Partners and the company’s CEO Miguel Fernandez in April and May.