Posted by Russell Daniels on April 16, 2019 at 12:54 PM
It's time to change the way Florida votes
You said no to gerrymandering. You legalized medical marijuana. You restored voting rights for ex-felons.
Up next: Floridians may have the chance to reform the way the entire state votes.
I say: Bring … it … on.
A campaign is quietly taking shape — one involving hundreds of thousands of dollars from bipartisan sources — to end Florida’s closed primary system.
Before we explain what they’re proposing, forget what you might envision when you hear “open primaries.”
Often, that means letting anyone vote in Republican or Democratic primaries. That’s not what this is.
This idea, already in place in several other states, would end party primaries altogether.
Instead, it would place all candidates from all parties on a single primary ballot — and let everyone vote. The top two candidates move on to the general-election ballot in November.
It could be two Republicans, two Democrats, one of each or include an independent or Libertarian. Basically, the two finalists would be the two best candidates, as determined by voters, regardless of party affiliation.
Think about it: If one party has two good candidates, and the other party has only a nut-job, why should the nut-job be guaranteed a spot in the finals?
A “top two” primary gives every voter a chance to vote on every candidate. What could be more democratic than that?
There are many good reasons to hold elections this way.
It combats extremism. With closed parties, candidates often run either far right or far left to appeal to their party’s base. It’s a system that produces extremism. Fringe belongs on the drapes, not in office.
It promotes bipartisanship. When candidates have to appeal to members of both parties, they are more likely to work with members of both parties.
More voters get influence: Right now, if you’re a Republican in a Dem-heavy district (or vice versa), your vote is largely irrelevant. Candidates can cater only to the primary voters who will ultimately decide their fate. This helps everyone’s vote — and concerns — count equally.
It’s financially fair. As it is, taxpayers spend millions on primary elections in which many can’t vote. It’s taxation without participation. If R’s or D’s want to stage private primaries for their members only, swell. They should pay for it.
It limits influence of special interests. Candidates often cater to special interests that can doom their chances in smaller, closed primaries if they don’t follow orders. Republicans may kowtow to the NRA; Democrats to labor unions. “This is why you sometimes have politicians endorsing bad policies,” said South Florida attorney Eugene “Gene” Stearns. “These aren’t bad people. They just don’t have any choice if they want to stay in office. They will tell you: I can’t buck the NRA, or I won’t make it through the primary.”
Stearns helps lead one of two groups pushing for reform. He’s a longtime Democratic adviser and strategist who teamed up with GOP mega-donor Miguel “Mike” Fernandez in a group called All Voters Vote.
Without attracting much attention, the two men have amassed $600,000 to bankroll an effort to ask Florida voters whether they want to change the state’s primary system.
Fernandez, a South Florida investor, donated millions to Republican candidates and causes in years past, but grew frustrated by strident politicians who refused to work together to solve this country’s problems.
He is not alone. The most popular political trend in America is to register as a non-party-affiliated voter. “People are fed up with the high degree of partisanship,” Stearns said.
Now, party bosses don’t like independent thinkers. They thrive on tribalism. Stearns expects opposition, but also confidently predicts: “Voters will overwhelmingly approve it.”
Steve Hough, who leads Florida Fair and Open Primaries, agrees. “The growth among independents has been explosive,” he said. “Politics has just gotten so partisan and so bitter. People just think there’s got to be a better way.”
Ballot language is still being worked out. But both Hough and Stearns said there is growing support for two amendments — one that would create open primaries for state offices, such as the governor and Legislature, and another addressing congressional primaries at the federal level. They aren’t planning on tackling local elections, many of which are already nonpartisan and where rules vary from one county to the next, or the presidential race, which has a largely nationalized primary system.
They still have a long way to go. They need nearly 800,000 signatures and approval from the Supreme Court to even get the proposed amendment on the ballot.
But for the first time in Florida’s history, there is now major money behind this idea.
And proponents know their best hope isn’t with politicians who thrive in the current hyper-partisan system, but by taking the matter directly to citizens — just as previous advocates did with Fair Districts, medical marijuana and felon’s voting rights.
“The polling on this is off the charts,” Stearns said.
Echoed Hough: “If it gets on the ballot, it will pass.”