Posted by Russell Daniels on January 30, 2020 at 2:56 PM
Floridians want open primaries. Let all voters vote.
While the national press stands focused on the Democratic and Republican Parties’ fight over Florida in the presidential race, the real fight unfolding in our state is happening between the people of Florida and the insiders-of both parties.
In 1998, the voters of Florida passed a constitutional amendment to allow all voters to cast ballots in primaries when candidates had no opposition outside their party.
Within days of the new law taking effect, Democratic and Republican strategists came up with an ingenious way to circumvent the will of the voters and maintain closed primaries. It was called the “write-in loophole.” A write-in candidate closes the primary to all voters except those of the same party as the main candidates. A record 35 phony write-in candidates filed for the Florida state legislature in 2018 alone. It’s one reason why public support for open primaries has grown.
The other reason is the surge of independent voters. About 37% of Florida voters are currently registered Democrat, a steep drop from 54% in 1990. Republican voter registration has also plummeted, from 41% twenty years ago to 35% today. Nearly 4 million Floridians — 27% of the electorate — are now registered independent and shut out of voting in Florida’s closed primary elections.
In 2017, when the Florida Constitution Revision Commission began hosting public hearings across the state, dozens of voters showed up at each hearing to support open primaries. They included Republicans, Democrats, and independents and represented every ethnicity and economic background.
They were united in their demand that all taxpayer-funded elections be open to every registered voter. One recent transplant from Alabama said: “I never thought Alabama would be ahead of any other state when it comes to elections, but Florida’s closed primaries make Alabama look like utopia.”
Giancarlo Espinosa from Key West drove almost 200 miles to testify at a hearing in Miami where he declared, “We need to stop preventing citizens of the United States of America from participating in the political process.”
More Floridians came out to demand open primaries than any other issue before the Commission. Thousand more wrote letters and signed petitions in support. The public outpouring was so powerful that two Commissioners who had never considered the issue before introduced open primary resolutions. But the politically appointed Commission leadership rejected them and refused to allow them on the ballot. They even rejected a modest proposal to simply close the write-in loophole.
But the more the political establishment holds on to their power, the more public support grows for letting all voters vote. Current polls show 73% of Floridians-supermajorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents — supporting open primaries.
In 2019, Democratic Party activists passed a resolution through the Miami-Dade Democratic County Organization to open the Democratic primary to independent voters. Two other county parties followed suit. Momentum for a resolution at the October state convention was building until the Party Chair, Terrie Rizzo, had the resolution dispensed with in a closed-door rules meeting.
The voters want it. The political bosses want to kill it.
Nowhere in the country has the demand for primary election reform been louder and more sustained than here in Florida. Floridians from Miami to the panhandle are standing up and demanding open primaries. They are demonstrating the growing power of independent voters and are exposing the strong antipathy both parties have for voter empowerment. They are revealing the deepening divides between rank and file party members and the leadership of the Florida Democrat and Republican Parties.
That’s why the All Voters Vote campaign (Amendment 3) for top two open primaries, being championed by Miami businessman Mike Fernandez, is so powerful. It represents the culmination of twenty years of grassroots activism and support for opening Florida’s elections to every voter.
For the first time in decades, the voters of Florida will have the chance to decide for themselves whether to let all voters vote. Not surprisingly, the Democrat and Republican Parties don’t want them to have that choice. Leadership of both parties has attacked the campaign and filed court papers to sabotage it, declaring that it “confuses voters,” and “takes away voter choice.” Make no mistake, they are united against letting the voters decide.
The people of Florida have been pushing for primary reform since 1998. We hope in the weeks and months ahead that you join us in what will most certainly prove to be a key reform battle this year. Get involved and help the ALL VOTERS VOTE team succeed. It’s going to be one hell of a fight.