Open primary amendment draws rare bipartisan opposition

People voting on U.S. Election Day, Photo Date: 11/7/2017 / Photo: Ralph Northam / Twitter / (MGN)
People voting on U.S. Election Day, Photo Date: 11/7/2017 / Photo: Ralph Northam / Twitter / (MGN)
Published: Dec. 3, 2019 at 4:05 PM EST
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

December 3, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- In a rare show of bipartisanship, both the Republican and Democratic parties came out swinging at the State Supreme Court Tuesday morning.

They want the high court to block a proposed constitutional amendment from the 2020 ballot that would allow all voters to vote in primary elections.

Currently in Florida, only voters who currently belong to a political party can vote in a primary election and only in the races for their respective party.

But if approved by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would force Republicans and Democrats to compete in a single primary open to all voters.

The top two candidates would then face off in the general election.

“It would force a moderation of behavior. Right now you see bad behavior on both sides on the extremes. Pandering to the base, throwing out the red meat,” said Glenn Burhans, Chair of All Voters Vote.

Florida has become more moderate over the past few years.

Currently, just shy of 28% of Floridians do not belong to either the Democratic or Republican party.

Both Republicans and Democrats oppose the amendment.

“9.7 million registered voters in Florida who have chosen a party affiliation would lose their ability by direct vote to choose their party nominee,” said Rob McNeely, an attorney representing the Florida Democratic Party.

But Justices seemed unconvinced.

“All candidates go on the primary ballot and the two highest vote getters advance to the general election. Again I cannot follow your reasoning of how that disenfranchises anybody,” said Chief Justice Charles T. Canady.

One area the justices did express concerns over is the fact that the amendment leaves room for the Legislature to potentially create a third election that could still be closed off to other voters and give parties an opportunity to nominate a candidate.

McNeely said voters reading the amendment wouldn't understand that potential.

“No it's not clear. It's confusing and therefore it shouldn't be allowed on the ballot,” said McNeely.

If approved by the court, voters will have the final say in November.

The amendment sponsor anticipates it will take at least 6 million yes votes to reach the 60% threshold for approval.

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