Florida GOP, Democrats unite against open primary proposal

Florida GOP, Democrats unite against open primary proposal
(Source: WVIR)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) — The Florida Supreme Court will decide whether a proposed constitutional amendment that would overhaul the state’s primary-election system will go before voters in November 2020.

Justices heard arguments Tuesday about the proposed amendment, which would allow registered voters to cast ballots in primary elections regardless of party affiliation. The two candidates getting the most votes in each primary would advance to the general election.

Moving to so-called "jungle" primaries would be a major change from Florida's longstanding "closed" primary system, which generally limits primaries to voters registered with parties.

Attorney General Ashley Moody's office and the state Republican and Democratic parties are trying to keep the measure from reaching the November 2020 ballot, arguing at the Supreme Court that the proposed amendment would be misleading to voters.

Robert McNeely represents the Florida Democratic Party. He said, "The 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 for the general election."

The All Voters Vote committee has submitted enough petition signatures to the state to get its measure on the ballot, making the Supreme Court review a pivotal final step. All Voters Vote Chairman Glenn Burhans feels a change in how primary elections are run will lead to better candidates.

"Those elections matter. The primaries often times decide who is going to win the office, at the primary. That's why we can't just leave it to a small sliver of the extreme wing of either party to make that decision," he argued. "With the All Voters Vote amendment, they have to go to the primary and appeal to a much broader swath of the electorate. They are going to be forced to moderate their bad behavior, and they are going to be forced to take action and speak to the greatest number of voters in order to win elections."

The Florida Supreme Court plays a critical role in determining whether proposed constitutional amendments reach the ballot. It is not supposed to weigh the merits of initiatives but looks at ballot titles and summaries to determine if the wording meets legal tests, such as not being misleading.

It is unclear when justices will make a decision on the proposal, which would apply to elections for the Legislature, governor and state Cabinet.

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