Panel rejects closing write-in ‘loophole'

(Copyright 2017 CNN)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Monday turned down a proposal that would have ended what has become known as the write-in “loophole” in primary elections.

The commission, in its final decision on proposed constitutional amendments for the November ballot, came up three votes short of approving the primary-election change.

The issue, which drew heavy debate, stemmed from a 1998 constitutional amendment that was designed to open primary elections to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, when all of the candidates in races are from the same party.

But primaries become closed --- available only to voters who are in the parties of the candidates -- when write-ins sign up for the races.

Critics have long argued that this write-in “loophole” has become a ploy for Republican and Democratic operatives to find non-viable candidates who they can use to close primaries.

Commission member Lisa Carlton on Monday called the use of write-ins a “sham” and said it went against the intent of the 1998 constitutional amendment.

“We have created paper candidates that emerge from the shadows and sign a piece of paper” to become write-ins and close primaries, said Carlton, a former Republican state senator.

But some commission members, including Tom Grady, a former Republican House member, and Arthenia Joyner, a former Democratic senator, argued against changing the current system.

Grady said, for example, that the Legislature could change the system if it chooses.

“I don’t see the loophole, and I don’t see the need for a constitutional fix here,” Grady said.

The 37-member commission’s rules required approval from 22 members to place proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal to close the “loophole” received 19 votes, while being opposed by 17 members.