Florida voters demand open primaries

Florida voters demand open primaries

This article was written by Steve Hough for the Tallahassee Democrat

The 2016 primary elections in Florida were a watershed moment for our state. Despite spending some $13 million of their hard earned tax dollars to fund primaries, 3.4 million independent voters were shut out of one of the most important elections in a generation. Millions more voters of all stripes were justifiably appalled by their exclusion.

No matter one’s politics, the right to vote is sacred, and Florida is now one of only nine states with a completely closed primary system that requires participating voters be registered members of a political party in order to vote. Florida’s voters are increasingly registering without a party affiliation, so our election system has become unsustainable.

Floridians recognize how important primary elections have become. Due to gerrymandering and the creation of safe districts for the major parties, 90 percent of all races are determined by primary elections.

Since the last election, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission has convened, with the authority to add constitutional amendments to 2018 ballots for Florida voters. Scores of voters have taken time to speak at public hearings; dozens in particular, voiced their support for open primaries. Hundreds of written statements of support have been submitted to the CRC website and to individual commissioners.

In cooperation with the national organization, Open Primaries, our state organization Florida Fair and Open Primaries collected in excess of 6,000 petition signatures.

Our petition urged commissioners to sponsor our public proposal (#700575), which calls for opening Florida’s primary elections to all voters. All candidates would have equal access to the primary ballot and all voters would be empowered to vote for their preferred candidates in each race. The top two vote-getters move on to the general election. This kind of systemic reform goes well beyond the more limited proposal accepted by the commission Oct. 2.

That proposal is meant to close Florida’s “write-in-loophole,” one of the more insidious examples of political corruption in our state. That’s important, and I applaud State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who submitted a public proposal to close it.

But times have changed, and the phenomenal growth of non-affiliated voters demands we do more. Aronberg’s proposal does not address the voting rights of over a quarter of all registered voters in our state.

By merely closing the write-in loophole, these voters will continue to be disenfranchised except in the number of races for which they would now “qualify.” Given that 90 percent of races are decided in a primary election, why would we only allow participation of non-affiliated voters in a limited number of races?

Closed primaries are a source of confusion for many voters, especially young voters and those who have had different experiences in other states. Wouldn’t having open primaries only under "certain conditions" simply add to the confusion?

My organization co-sponsored a poll in March that revealed over 70 percent of Floridians now support a fully open primary like the one detailed in our proposal. This included majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents polled.

The purpose of the CRC is to respond to the real needs of Florida's citizens. We believe this includes offering us the opportunity to build a stronger and more democratic election system in our state.

We implore the CRC to give Floridians the chance to vote for open primaries in 2018. We continue to run our petition offering every Florida voter the opportunity to tell them so. Please join us at www.floridaopenprimaries.org and add your voice.

Steve Hough is the Director of Florida Fair and Open Primaries, an election reform organization.