Joe Henderson: Florida’s Amendment 3 could change everything about elections

People Standing Outside Voting Room
Florida is one of nine states with closed primaries. That's not something to be proud of.

With all the focus on Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and the U.S. Supreme Court, it can be hard to keep up with other issues. Take Florida’s Amendment 3, for instance.

Better pay close attention to this one, though.

If it becomes law, it could change, oh, darn near everything about statewide elections in Florida. The state’s 3.6 million independents would be able to vote for candidates in the primaries, and there would be only one list of candidates.

The top two finishers go to the General Election, even if they’re from the same party.

The official name is All Voters Vote, but it’s known as a jungle primary and, naturally, both major political parties hate that idea. They aren’t the only ones.

The AFL-CIO, ACLU, Florida State Conference NAACP, Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the League of Women Voters of Florida – among others – lined up against the measure.

Why?

A better question: What is so great about the current system? Millions of independents and members of smaller parties don’t have a voice in choosing candidates for Governor and the Cabinet. If they did in 2016, Gwen Graham or Adam Putnam might be Governor today.

Primaries attract the most dedicated and usually philosophically rigid voters. For Democrats, that can mean progressives like Andrew Gillum can win a statewide primary with 517,863 votes – which is what he did in 2016.

That beat Graham by 44,868 votes.

Open primaries attract independent voters, though, and make moderates more appealing. Putnam wouldn’t have had to run like a hair-on-fire right-wing ideologue in the Republican primary because he knew that’s what the GOP primary base demanded.

Well, the hardcore base of either party doesn’t speak for the majority. Because our primary system benefits extremes to either end of the spectrum, though, moderate candidates often try to be something they aren’t.

Last Friday, people on both sides of the issue held a virtual statewide debate.

“You have the left and the right, and you have many groups that people trust and care about,” Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters said then. “On the other side, the group that pushed this is primarily funded by a single billionaire who was obviously upset at the system and is trying to change the process.”

That billionaire is Mike Fernandez, a Cuban immigrant, and Coral Gables health care executive. Fernandez raised millions for Republican causes and candidates and spent time as finance co-chair of Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Disillusioned with Trump, though, Fernandez left the GOP. He didn’t register with another party, though. That meant he couldn’t vote in the 2018 primary, and, thus, a movement started.

Amendment 3 needs 60% to pass and that’s a high bar.

It should be.

Amendment 3 might not be the solution, but it highlights the problem.

If it goes down the issue won’t die. Those who live, work, and pay taxes in Florida, but won’t align with red or blue deserve a voice. Tallahassee should find a way to give them one.

Florida is one of only nine states with closed primaries.

That’s not something to be proud of.

Joe Henderson

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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