Posted by Kellie Ryan on January 12, 2016 at 6:16 PM
Opening primaries to more voters would be a win for democracy
There is something anti-democratic about the way Florida shuts voters out of primaries.
That’s democratic, small “D,” because both parties tend to play favorites.
While an increasing number of Floridians are declaring themselves independents, they often are shut out of deciding who will represent them.
Here’s the deal: When every candidate comes from one party, the primary becomes open, serving as the general election, meaning everyone can vote.
But if there is a write-in candidate, the primary closes.
That means in the general election, voters will see one name and a line to write in a candidate.
It’s a sham that voters are shut out from the real election.
And it’s a shame that during the 21st century, these dirty tricks are actually part of the official election system.
In the 2014 election, seven House seats were decided by Republican primary voters. All seven had only write-in or minor party opposition in the general election, reports the Times-Herald Tallahassee Bureau.
INDEPENDENTS ARE GROWING IN NUMBER
This is occurring despite the fact that NPA voters (No Party Affiliation) represent the fastest growing segment of the electorate, a “sleeping giant” that includes many young and Hispanic voters.
Many of these NPA voters don’t vote — and it’s no wonder. The system is set up to disenfranchise them.
Consider these numbers in the last 20 years:
■ Registered Democrats have dropped from 47 percent to 38 percent.
■ Registered Republicans have dropped from 41 percent to 35 percent.
When NPA voters are combined with minor party voters, they actually outnumber Republicans in the Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In Miami-Dade, there are three state House districts where both Democrats and Republicans are outnumbered by NPA and minor party voters.
And these independent voters outnumber Democrats in seven counties, including St. Johns and Clay.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT NEEDED
So it’s no wonder that election results in presidential years are so different — many more voters are engaged, in part because the system is not discriminating against them.
Given this preface, it’s no wonder that there is a movement to amend the state Constitution to open the election process.
This is a good reason for a citizen-led constitutional amendment because neither political party would want to give up its advantages.
Called Florida Fair and Open Primaries, the amendment would allow the top two vote getters to advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. If a state office candidate obtains a majority of the votes in the primary, that person would be elected. Candidates could still have party affiliation indicated on the ballot.
We already know this process can work: It’s the one we use in Jacksonville for city elections.
And it wouldn’t affect races like presidential primaries, which would still be held the same way.
California and Washington have this open primary system. Louisiana and Nebraska, meanwhile, have modified open primary systems.
California once had one of the nation’s most partisan environments. But now that state has more voter access, a more functional legislature and more competitive elections.
That’s exactly why we need a similar system in effect all across Florida — one that’s much more inclusive than our current process.
Opening elections to more voters is the right thing to do.