Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission has a chance to help prevent the routine disenfranchisement of voters. The commission should seize this opportunity.
The state constitution calls for a 37-member commission to review Florida’s guiding document every 20 years and, possibly, propose changes for the consideration of voters. Proposals by the CRC will be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot; if a proposed amendment receives at least 60 percent of the votes, it will become part of the constitution.
In 1998, 64 percent of general-election voters approved an amendment that says: “If all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified electors, regardless of party affiliation, may vote in the primary elections for that office.”
The intent was clear — to open primaries to all voters when all the candidates are identified on the ballot with the same party affiliation.
For example, based on the amendment, if two or more Republicans qualify for a primary and there are no Democratic or other partisan candidates, everyone eligible to cast a ballot in that race can vote, regardless of party affiliation. In such cases, the primary is considered “universal.”
But the intent has been consistently undermined — first by the Legislature’s failure in 1999 to implement the amendment without strings attached, then by an advisory opinion issued in 2000 when Katherine Harris oversaw Florida’s elections, and subsequently by court rulings.
As a result, write-in candidates have been considered “opposition in a general election.” Thus, primaries that would otherwise be “universal” and open have been closed when a write-in is in the mix.
That result contradicts the intent of voters, defies common sense and opens elections to gross manipulation. Consider:
No write-in candidate has won a “major election” in Florida, according to Sherry Plymale, a member of the current CRC.
Unlike partisan candidates, write-ins don’t have to pay filing fees or collect petitions to qualify for office. The names of write-ins are not even on the ballot!
The record is replete, locally and statewide, with examples of overt and covert efforts by both major parties to recruit write-in candidates to close primaries — either to favor one candidate over another, or to disenfranchise members of the opposition party and independents.
Fortunately, Plymale (a Republican member of the CRC) recently advanced a proposal made by Dave Aronberg, a Democrat and the state attorney in Palm Beach County. Labeled Public Proposal 11, the measure would open primaries if the winner will have no opposition in the general election or if the opposition is “only from one or more write-in candidates.”
This proposal is simple. Its approval would right a wrong, and advance voter participation.
We urge the CRC to put it to voters.
This guest editorial was originally published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a sister newspaper of the Daily News within Gatehouse Media.
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