Posted by Russell Daniels on August 18, 2019 at 8:46 PM
Opening primaries would be a game-changer in Florida politics
written by Bill Cotterell for Tallahassee Democrat
It won’t happen in time for next year’s elections — if ever — but the idea of opening up the political primary system seems to be gaining attention among Florida Democrats.
It’s probably their best chance for returning to power, which is precisely why the Republicans won’t let it happen. It’s understandable: The Democrats showed no interest in non-party voters during the century-plus when their nomination was tantamount to election, so the GOP isn’t about to change the system that brought itself to power 20 years ago.
Participants in the Florida Democratic Party’s annual conference last weekend in Orlando approved a resolution suggesting a change in election law to let people register and vote on Election Day. The GOP won’t do that, either — outwardly for fear of election fraud, but mainly because it would help elect more Democrats.
There’s also a public petition drive for a constitutional amendment requiring “open” primaries, in which non-party members could participate. The idea is that “no party affiliate” voters, known as NPAs, could choose one primary or the other – not both.
Of course, everyone can vote in November.
The Republican-run Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis would never approve open primaries, so the proposal at the Democratic confab last weekend was seen as a mostly symbolic gesture.
Politically, it’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum. The only way to change the law would be for Democrats to regain control of the legislative and executive branches. And the only way to do that, probably, would be to have open primaries.
NPAs are a fast-growing segment of the voting population.
As of April 30, the state had 4,962,086 Democrats, 4,719,103 Republicans and 3,603,507 no-party voters. There were also 124,878 members of splinter parties, who can’t vote in the R or D primaries either.
Conventional wisdom holds that open primaries would have a taming effect on the big parties. The way to win a Democratic nomination now is to run as far to the left as possible, in most districts, while the way to win a GOP primary is to outpace your opponents to the right.
Which is why so many Republicans strive to demonstrate their eternal fealty to President Trump, and Democrats compete to show they hate him more than their intra-party competitors. But if candidates in either party had to appeal to those 3.6 million no-party voters, they would want to move a bit toward the middle.
Activists in both parties don’t want that. Things are the way they are because the people with power to change them like them the way they are. The Republicans staked out the radical right side of the political spectrum, pretty much leaving the Democrats with the looney left, and neither party wants the other side — or the no-party members — meddling in its selection of nominees.
And, in fairness, there’s something to be said for the notion that if you want to help select the Democratic nominee for something, you ought to be a Democrat. Ditto the Republicans.
It’s free. It’s convenient. You’ve got more than a year to register in a party before the books close next year. In fact, the Democrats’ near-miss candidate for governor last year, Andrew Gillum, is running an ambitious campaign to register or “re-engage” a million voters and flip the state.
We can be sure the Republicans will be reaching out, too.
Hey, here’s an idea. Instead of spending a lot of time talking about open, or semi-open, primaries, perhaps the Democrats ought to concentrate on that registration drive.
And when they get back in power in maybe four or six years (probably longer), they could enact open primaries.
It probably couldn’t seem so important then, though.