Write-in candidates could cause trouble in local elections

Duval County's Supervisor of Elections explains loophole

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Write-in candidates have little chance of winning an election, but they have the power to ruin the chances of candidates with wide support.

Channel 4 spoke to Jerry Holland, Duval County's Supervisor of Elections, about the controversial election loophole.

"Right or wrong, it is used by both parties and I doubt it is ever going to change," said Holland.

According to a state constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly in 1998, if the winner of a Democratic or Republican primary in Florida won't face opposition in the general election, then that primary is open to all voters without regard to party registration. The idea is that everyone should get a chance to vote for -- or against -- the eventual winner. However, it didn't take politicians long to figure out a way to get around the open primary requirement: find a supporter, friend or relative to run as a write-in candidate.

The open primary provision was part of a broader election reform measure. The problem that backers tried to correct 14 years ago was that in some counties or districts where one party has an overwhelmingly majority, the minority party might not even field a candidate in the general election. That meant that only voters from the majority party were deciding their area's next legislator, state attorney or other officeholder.

The backers thought they had solved the problem by opening the primary in such circumstances to all voters. But some candidates didn't want an open primary, figuring that hurt their chances, so they started registering someone as an official write-in candidate -- a process that costs no money -- and arguing that meant they had a general election opponent. The state Division of Elections, then under Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, agreed, saying that was enough to close a primary. That's led to an explosion of write-ins.

According to Holland, both parties take advantage of the law.

"They do, they use it to close primaries because they feel if the other party were voting in that particular election it might impact the outcome of that election," said Holland. 

Holland said there are five write-in candidates on the ballot in local races in Duval County this year. Holland said he doesn't know of any races locally where the write-in candidate was intentionally put on the ballot to stop certain people from voting.  However, according to Holland, write-in candidates still have to file to run with the elections office.

"The write in is a specific person. A lot of people think you can write anybody, like you could write Scott Johnson a million times and be elected, but you have to qualify during the qualifying period," said Holland.


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