Amendment 3 Tackles Real Problem With Wrong Solution

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY OCT 10, 2020

With voter registration closed for the 2020 election in Florida, it’s clear a trend has continued of voters moving away from the major parties. The number of Florida voters registered with no party affiliation or with third parties jumped by more than 10% since the 2016 election. By comparison, Democratic registration went up around 6% and Republicans bumped their numbers up by almost 10%.

That’s despite the fact Florida’s closed primary system simply doesn’t reward such independent thought. Honestly, even those who register with a party often lose out on the chance to influence election outcomes if they live in a jurisdiction where they remain outnumbered.

So it’s probably inevitable that at some point voters who feel disenfranchised will someday overthrow the election system as we know it. It could happen in a few weeks if voters pass Amendment 3, dubbed “All Voters Vote.” Yet, I’m not certain the resulting jungle primary would produce better results, especially for casual voters who pay little attention to politics until the build-up to the general election.

Before getting into doubts on the measure, let’s acknowledge abuses of the current primary system than frustrate voters today. One in particular, the write-in loophole, provides a free mechanism for partisan hacks to freeze thousands of voters out of elections frequently. For a local example, check out the race for an open Manatee County Commission seat this year. More than 112,000 registered Republicans had the chance in the primary to decide if George Kruse or Ed Hunzeker should be the GOP nominee, though only around 37,000 bothered to vote in August; they chose Kruse.

But nearly 149,000 Manatee County voters registered as anything but Republicans don’t vote until this November, when they will see Kruse’s name on the ballot beside a blank line. They could write something there, but unless they vote for qualified write-in Thomas Dell, their votes will be tossed. Kruse effectively won the seat six weeks ago. I don’t raise this to criticize Kruse, the beneficiary of a broken system, but that simply isn’t how democracy should work. Dell closing the primary exploits an oversight in Florida’s existing open primary law, which but for the candidacy would at least have allowed all voters to participate in the August race, the way all Sarasota County voters could weigh in on Sheriff when only Republicans filed. That’s just one reason voters hunger for a system allows all voters to vote in August regardless.

Yet, it doesn’t account for problems seen with top two systems in other states.

Amendment 3 would replace Florida’s closed primaries with a system where all candidates would appear one a single ballot, at least for state offices from Governor through the Legislature. Democrats, Republicans and whoever else could vote in August, and only two candidates would advance to a November runoff. That sounds great, but it’s actually led to many new tactical tricks in other states. Consider a U.S. Senate race in Georgia right now where two candidates in November will advance to a runoff. It should be one of the hottest battleground races in the nation, but polls show the Republican incumbent and another GOP candidate advancing.

That can happen anytime more serious contenders emerge in one party than the other. It’s been noted in Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race, the two-candidate GOP primary resulted in Adam Putnam get more votes than top Democrat Andrew Gillum received in a primary field of five major campaigns. I doubt voters would have been happy seeing just Putnam and now-Gov. Ron DeSantis on the November ballot.

Florida’s current system provides to many ways to disenfranchise voters in the minority within the jurisdiction where they live. It needs to be fixed. But a jungle primary system replaces one set of problems with another, and likely won’t leave anyone happier with the election outcomes.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA.

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