Consider an open primary amendment - Open Primaries
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Posted by jesse shayne on May 10, 2017 at 4:15 PM

This article was published by the Citrus County Chronicle editorial board

THE ISSUE: Florida’s closed primary system.

OUR OPINION: Tell the Constitutional Revision Commission we need to change.

Florida has closed primary elections. Under this system, which just a handful of other states use, only voters registered in one of the two major parties may vote in that party’s primary. The political parties like the closed system, but we don’t.

In Florida elections, an exception to the closed system occurs when all candidates belong to a single party. In that case, it becomes an open election in which everyone, regardless of party affiliation, may vote. It essentially becomes the general election for that office.

This system is ripe for manipulation, and we’ve seen it right here in Citrus County.

For example, Candidate 1 in Party X might feel confident of winning with only party-affiliated voters, but fears that opening an election to all voters countywide could give the advantage to his same-party opponent.

Now imagine that Candidate 1’s backers can persuade a straw man to run for election either as a no-party-affiliation candidate or a candidate of the other party. That person may not be a serious or viable candidate, but his entry into the race would automatically close the primary, restricting voting just to party-affiliated voters.

In Citrus County, 47 percent of voters are registered Republican, 28 percent are registered Democrat, and 25 percent are registered with no party affiliation. Therefore, in our example, if Candidate 1 were a Republican running in an open primary election, all 106,400 voters would have their say. But if a straw man entered the race just to close the primary, less than half of the county’s registered voters would be choosing the winner. The remaining 53 percent would effectively be disenfranchised.

Many voices statewide have called for changes to the system. Right now, we have an opportunity to elevate the conversation and take action.

As happens every 20 years, the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) is meeting to review and consider proposals to change Florida’s Constitution. The process takes about a year, during which the CRC holds public hearings all over the state and accepts suggestions via its website. A public hearing is scheduled in Tampa later this month. The commission’s final proposals will be presented to citizens on the 2018 ballot, and must achieve at least 60 percent approval to pass.

Even if you can’t travel to one of the public hearings, you can communicate with the CRC via its website. Create a free account to submit a proposal regarding a specific section of the Constitution using legal language. Alternately, take advantage of the email function to send a message generally expressing your opinion.

When changes to the Florida Constitution are being considered, we all need to pay close attention. Visit the CRC’s website to read all the public proposals, track the CRC’s meetings and publications, and send messages. Get involved.

And if you agree that we should have open primary elections for Florida’s state and local races, let the CRC know.

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