Posted by Russell Daniels on January 30, 2020 at 3:20 PM
OUR VIEW: Open primaries: no time like the future
Something’s happening here. And with all due respect to that prescient 1960s Buffalo Springfield song, what it is seems pretty clear: Our two major political parties’ laserlike cultivation of their respective bases is leaving a significant portion of American voters running for the sidelines.
From 2014 to 2016, according to the League of Women Voters of Florida, the number of residents in this state registering as “NPA” — no party affiliation — grew by 1.2 million, to 3.4 million voters. That’s a 55% increase in two short years. Today that number stands at more than 3.6 million — Floridians who voluntarily have recused themselves from voting in political party primaries.
That’s 27% of registered voters in this state.
With Feb. 18 as the last day to sign up for Florida’s March 17 Presidential Preference Primary, party organizers have been super-busy — calling, texting and even knocking on doors to urge these independents to see the error of their ways. The operatives’ reasoning is that lots of newly registered voters just don’t understand that they’re depriving themselves of the chance to weigh in on the top office in the land.
We’re not so sure that ignorance is the problem. Perhaps it’s time for the parties to ask themselves what they might be doing to turn voters off to such an extent that they would deliberately disenfranchise themselves. And more specifically, what is alienating members of the Millennial generation, who have swelled the total of NPAs.
But instead of waiting on this unlikely soul-searching exercise, an outfit known as All Voters Vote has gathered enough signatures to place a citizen initiative on the November ballot that would allow all registered Floridians to vote in a single primary for governor, cabinet members and state legislators. The top two vote-getters would then advance to the general election.
This concept is called either a “blanket primary” or a “jungle primary” — depending, we suppose, on whether you believe that all voters should have the same warm, fuzzy coverage when it comes to their stake in representative democracy, or that all voters are savage beasts who can’t be counted on to act in a rational and civilized manner if they are not herded into doing so.
The Florida League, unsurprisingly, tends toward that first interpretation. “We are not anti-party,” League state director Michele Levy emphasized on a recent visit to Sarasota; “we are pro-voter.”
The proposed ballot amendment is still awaiting Florida Supreme Court approval of its language, but is widely expected to pass muster. So it’s not too soon to start thinking about whether we’re ready for this radical change, and how letting that missing 26% participate in primary elections might play out.
Levy said that after a 2017 League study she oversaw on open primaries, this particular model — with the top two contenders moving on to the general election — was not the researchers’ first choice. They favored an alternative where all registered voters could come to the polls on primary day and request either a Republican or Democratic ballot. But this is the option before us, she said, and she believes it can work.
“Any primary that increases people who are voting, and increases NPA participation,” she said, “gets our support.”
Ours as well.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board