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Suit seeks to nullify Florida ballot question on open primaries

A voter walks into a polling station for Florida's March presidential primary.
A voter walks into a polling station for Florida's March presidential primary. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After 1.8 million ballots have been cast in the state, a lawsuit filed Tuesday asks the Florida Supreme Court to nullify a proposed constitutional amendment that would open primaries to all voters regardless of party affiliation.

The amendment, known as ‘All Voters Vote,’ would effectively end primary elections as we know them. The amendment would allow all voters to vote in primaries, with the top two candidates advancing to November.

Incoming Republican House speaker Chris Sprowls and Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz expressed support for the lawsuit in a joint press conference, saying that the proposal would hurt minority representation in government.

“This can do irreparable damage to our political process. This is the political equivalent to a battle royal. Nobody understands who’s going to be left out, nobody understands the damage that is going to be done to the process and who’s going to be disenfranchised, which is why it shouldn’t go into the constitution,” Sprowls said.

Democratic lawmakers agree and are blanketing voters' mailboxes across the state urging a no vote on Amendment 3.

The ballot question would style Florida elections similar to those in California. In Florida, all candidates for the state Legislature, Cabinet and governor would appear on the same primary ballot and then the top two candidates would move on to the general election. That could mean two Democrats or two Republicans face each other in the general election.

It’s an idea that the Democratic Black Caucus opposes.

“It would be very unlikely that any ... Florida Senate district would be able to elect an African-American senator,” said state Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Backers of the amendment said those fears and the lawsuit ignores the impact of adding 3.6 million nonparty voters to primary decision-making.

“And the message to them is, ‘No thanks. Unless you join our party, we don’t want to hear from you.’ I think that’s shameful,” said Glen Burhans, chair of All Voters Vote. “Their arguments today reeked of fear.”

The group All Voters Vote gathered petitions to put the proposal on the ballot. It would need 60% approval to pass.

When the amendment was before Florida’s Supreme Court, both political parties opposed it. In March, the justices said the amendment was fit for the ballot.

Supporters say the current system produces the most politically extreme candidates in the general election because independent voters don’t have a say in primary elections. Florida has more than 3.8 million voters who aren’t registered with either major party, or about 27% of Florida’s more than 14 million voters.

The Supreme Court approved the ballot language in December. Anne Corcoran, who is representing voter Glenton Gilzean in the lawsuit, said it's unusual to ask the court to reverse a previous opinion. But she said studies that have come out since the opinion find that minority representation would be hurt if it passes.

In a written statement, All Voters Vote Chairman Glenn Burhans said those studies were “a sham report based on flawed and misleading data.”

“This is a grotesque misuse of the courts for a political stunt; the claims have no merit,” Burhans said.

The lawsuit comes as Floridians have already cast 1.8 million ballots by mail. It asks that votes for and against the proposal not be counted.

“If passed this amendment will hurt minority representation and lead to more mudslinging and political chaos,” Cruz said. “Simply put, this amendment is a real threat to true reThe incoming Republican Speaker of the House and a powerful Democratic State Senator are taking the unusual step of asking the Florida Supreme Court to remove Amendment 3 from the November ballot.