Posted by Caitlin Kelly on July 29, 2015 at 12:28 PM
Intern's Insight: Ready to Amend, Florida Fights for Fair Primaries
As one of the twelve states that follows a strict closed primary system, Florida looks to take a stand with the introduction of the All Voters Vote amendment. Florida’s current system allows its registered 4.2 million Republicans and 4.6 million Democrats to participate in primary elections, but denies the other 3.2 million that same right.
In the past ten years, the number of Florida voters who have decided not to affiliate with one of the two main parties has increased by 1 million, while Democrats have seen an increase of 300,000 and Republicans have seen a 200,000 increase.
So why is Florida silencing the fastest growing group of constituents? Not only in their state, but a trend that has been sweeping the nation.
In 2014, Florida primary elections saw an 18% turnout, compared to the 51% turnout for the general election. This primary election turnout is the lowest (tied to 2008) it has been since 1998, when turnout was a mere 17%.
While these numbers are low, increasing the overall turnout is not necessarily the central goal of this amendment. Rather, to allow those who choose to not affiliate to a political party the right to vote, without coercing them into joining a party to do so.
The current closed primary system raises the question, is party affiliation a qualified determinant of one’s right to vote in an integral part of our election system?
Gene Stearns says no. A lawyer in Miami with a history of political involvement, Stearns leads the group of bipartisan activists who are sponsoring the proposed amendment. The amendment, after being submitted to the Florida Division of Elections, will need to acquire more than 600,000 signatures in order for it to appear on the November 2016 ballot. From there, the initiative would need 60% of voters to approve for it to take effect in 2018.
The amendment plans to include the 3.2 million unaffiliated voters in the primary process, granting the right to vote to all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof. Stearns says, “…more and more people are becoming unwilling to identify with either of [the parties]. The consequence of their collective decision is making politics worse and governments more damaged than they have already become."
Affecting primary elections for Congress, state legislature, governor, and cabinet, a single ballot will be used for all qualified candidates, regardless of party affiliation.
If a candidate receives a majority of the primary vote, they will be elected to that office. If no individual receives majority, the top two vote getters will move on to a general election.
Primary elections for Congress will be slightly different, due to federal law that essentially requires a general election to take place. Therefore, the top two vote getters from the primary will move forward.
In the proposed amendment, the use of government funds for party-specific primary activities is prohibited.
In summation, this amendment looks to decrease the influence of partisan politics in state and congressional elections, and, as the name suggests, allow all voters to vote.
The All Voters Vote amendment, should it pass, would be a step toward fair and meaningful elections across the United States. Florida would become the third state to enact a nonpartisan, top two primary system.
Florida’s mission is not the only of its kind. It is joined by others, such as the recent petition questioning the constitutionality of closed primaries in New Jersey, and campaigns to open primaries to all voters in Arizona. Efforts across the country are bringing this issue to the forefront.
The United States needs to shift with its people. As voters become more and more likely to be independent, and choose not to affiliate with a party, closed primary elections no longer represent the public accurately. Each state that recognizes the voter suppression that is currently taking place across our country is step toward fairness and voter equality.
Caitlin Kelly, an Intern at Open Primaries, is going to be a senior at the University of Iowa this coming fall. She is a Political Science major with an emphasis in Political Communication. Caitlin has been interested in politics since her Elementary School held a mock-vote for the 2000 Presidential Election.
She was a Senator and Communications Director in her Residence Hall Government her first year of college, and continues to promote leadership involvement through acting as a co-advisor for the University’s Hall Governments the past two years.
Originally from New York, Caitlin is excited to explore the world of politics through her internship with Open Primaries and continue to promote political awareness and activism in her generation.