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State Republican, Democratic parties united in fight against open primaries

Backers say primary proposal should go on ballot

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Democrats meeting in Orlando over the weekend officially came out against a proposed constitutional amendment changing how primary elections are held.

Republicans and Democrats in Florida seldom agree on anything, but both parties are united in their opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment that would overhaul Florida’s primary elections system.

The political committee All Voters Vote filed a 27-page brief late Tuesday at the Florida Supreme Court contending that justices should approve the proposed ballot wording. 

The brief came on the same day that Attorney General Ashley Moody, the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party made filings arguing that the Florida Supreme Court should block the proposed amendment.

Under the proposal, registered voters would be able to cast ballots in primaries regardless of political affiliation. The two candidates getting the most votes in each primary would advance to the general election.

During the 2018 Florida primary, there were five Democrats and two Republicans running for governor. Under the proposed constitutional amendment, all seven would have faced off in August, with the top two vote-getters advancing to November.

"It’s going to enable more voters to vote and have a say in the process because, in those closed party primaries, the winner only has to speak to a very small sliver, the extreme wings of their parties, to get through the primary process,” said All Voters Vote Chair Glenn Burhans.

All Voters Vote needs the Supreme Court to sign off on the ballot wording, with justices looking at issues such as whether the wording would be misleading to voters.

In its brief Tuesday, All Voters Vote said the proposal meets the legal requirements.

“The ballot title and summary of the All Voters Vote amendment clearly and unambiguously inform voters of its chief, and sole, purpose: allowing all qualified registered voters to vote in primary elections for state elective office without regard to the party affiliation of voters and candidates,” attorneys for the committee wrote.

But Moody and the state parties disagreed, arguing in part that the proposed wording would not adequately explain the ramifications of the amendment to voters.

“Voters considering whether to adopt such a radical change to Florida’s election process are entitled to a ballot summary that clearly and unambiguously describes the choice before them and is not misleading,” attorneys for the Republican Party wrote. “The proposal here fails to satisfy this basic -- yet critically important -- legal requirement.”

Evan Power is the Republican chair in the state's capital.

“I think what we are going to do is throw everybody into a jungle primary and then money will control who comes out of that jungle primary and then you’ll end up with two Republicans or two Democrats, and then the other party is going to be even more upset about it,” Power said.

But Democratic strategist Steve Schale said he thinks the opposition is misguided in arguing open primaries could give parties more incentive to reach out to independent voters.

“First of all, we need those folks to vote for us in November. So if we start talking to them in primaries, it helps the conversation along,” Schale said.

During the 2018 primary, the top two vote-getters were Republicans Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, but organizers dispute that’s the way it would have turned out if the proposed constitutional amendment had been in place.

“They’re forgetting 3.7 million nonparty affiliates that couldn’t have voted in those primaries,” Burhans said.

The proposed constitutional amendment would apply only to elections for governor, Cabinet and state Legislature.

California and Louisiana are the two states where all voters can vote in primaries. Some other states allow voters to choose which partisan primary they’d like to vote in without becoming a member of that party.

Along with needing Supreme Court approval, All Voters Vote needs to submit at least 766,200 valid petition signatures to the state Division of Elections by a February deadline.