Fl Democrats, Republicans unite against amendment allowing independents to vote in primary elections

early voting booth

Representatives from both the Florida Republican and Democratic parties filed legal briefs this week with the Florida Supreme Court registering opposition to the proposed “All Voters Vote” constitutional amendment.

Florida is a “closed primary” state, meaning only voters registered with the Democratic or Republican parties can vote in party primary elections for the Legislature, governor and Cabinet. That excludes all non-party-affiliated voters (NPAs), who now represent nearly one third of registered voters in Florida.

The proposed amendment would allow all registered voters to vote in primary elections, but with a twist: All candidates for a specific office would appear on the same ballot, with the two biggest vote-getters advancing to the general election.

That’s known as a “top-two” or “jungle primary” system, and it could mean that two Republicans or two Democrats could end up on the same general election ballot. That’s exactly what would have happened had this system had been in place in 2018, when Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam received more votes overall than Andrew Gillum, the-top ranking Democrat in his party’s five-person race.

“As much as I’d like to see Republicans in every office across Florida, this result would have severely limited the choice of millions of Floridians,” state GOP chairman Joe Gruters said.

“The ballot title and summary mislead voters into thinking that all this amendment does is open up our current party primaries to NPAs. The truth is far from that,” Republican general counsel Ben Gibson said in a written statement. “What the amendment really does is abolish party primaries and limit the choice of votes in the general election.”

Not surprisingly, the Florida Democratic Party also opposes the proposed constitutional amendment.

“We support the democratic process and a system that gives voters more opportunities to choose a candidate that reflects their values. This ballot initiative would do the opposite,” said Democratic chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. “A proposal which eliminates the chance for a Democrat to make the ballot is not democratic.”

Florida is in the minority of (nine) states that have completely closed primary elections. The other 41 states operate some form of an open or not completely closed primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Also voicing opposition is Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, whose office has been active in speaking out against several proposed 2020 constitutional amendments.  On Monday, Moody wrote in a filing with the court that the proposal would give party bosses “sole discretion” over the party candidate nominating process.

“The primary process was adopted to eliminate the good-ole-boys clubs of yesteryear, when party brass in smoke-filled rooms chose the party’s candidates,” Moody wrote. “While this proposed ballot question purports to improve upon Florida’s system for electing leaders, the ballot title and summary hide the fact that it would explicitly allow political parties to select candidates through a closed process.”

Glenn Burhans Jr. is the Chair of All Voters Vote. He says it’s all about making voting more accessible.

“Both parties should check their math because they exclude the 3.6 million registered voters that were blocked from voting in the 2018 primaries,” he told the Phoenix in an email. “We should not be surprised that both parties continue to exclude non-party affiliated voters from their consideration.”

The measure already has submitted more than 703,000 valid signatures to the Florida Division of Elections. It needs 766,200 qualified verified signatures by February to qualify for the ballot. That’s if the measure survives a review of its ballot language by the state’s high court.

2 COMMENTS

  1. First, thanks for the story. One of the advantages of the top-two system is that it gives moderate candidates a fighting chance. Under the closed primary system, given the current political environment, the candidate who appeals to the “base” wins the primary and the base tends to be more left or right on the political spectrum – thus eliminating more “moderate” leaning electors from having meaningful choices in the general election.

    Unfortunately the example of the Governor’s race used in the story is misleading because one of the main purposes of the amendment would be to allow NPAs to vote in the primary – so it is impossible to speculate how the governor’s race would have turned out with a third more voters voting. It very well could have been any number of combinations and certainly a strong argument could be made that it would have been Putnam and Graham if center leaning NPAs had been allowed to vote.

    No doubt the misinformation campaigns launched by the Republicans and Democrats will be massive. Hopefully, if the amendment does make it on the ballot, the electors will see through the smoke and mirrors and pass it overwhelmingly.

    - Approved by marycornatzer
  2. Many states have “open” primaries, as opposed to our “closed” ones [meaning you must be registered D or R in order to vote in the primary]. Even though you can change your party affiliation in order to vote and then change it back again, most folks are not going to take the time to do that. In my opinion, closed primaries are simply another barrier to keep people from voting.

    - Approved by marycornatzer

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