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Proposal to open primaries to all Florida voters defeated

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Proposal to open primaries to all Florida voters defeated

Former Bar President Bill Schifino’s effort to open Florida’s primary system to all voters and provide for a “top two” system for selecting general election candidates apparently ended February 1 when it failed in its second Constitution Revision Commission committee.

Quote Initially, Proposal 62 would have allowed independent voters to pick a partisan ballot to use in primary elections. When that ran into headwinds in the Ethics and Elections Committee, Schifino modified the amendment to the top-two system that is used in some form in five states, including California and Washington.

In that system, all candidates for an office appear on one primary ballot that is open to all registered voters. The top two vote getters — regardless of party affiliation — appear on the general election ballot.

Schifino said the current system disenfranchises 3.4 million Floridians who are registered with no party affiliation (NPAs), independents who could outnumber Republicans or Democrats in Florida within six years. He added that when Washington and California went to that form of open primary, their primary voter participation rates rose dramatically, to 48 percent in Washington and more than 50 percent in California, compared to 24 percent in Florida.

But despite several speakers expressing support for the proposal, including citing polls showing more than 70 percent voter support for some form of open primary, P-62 failed to get a single vote when the General Provisions Committee considered it on the next to the last day of CRC committee meetings. Only proposals that cleared all their committees of reference by February 2 were scheduled to be considered when the full CRC begins its floor deliberations in a few weeks.

Commissioner Gary Lester said organizations, including political parties, have the right to limit participation to those who choose to join the organization. He said NPAs have opted not to join a party and can always choose to affiliate with one.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Commissioner Schifino led this effort in the best way he knew how,” Commissioner Brecht Heuchan said. “If I thought that this proposal could do all the things that are being claimed, I would vote for it and I would co-sponsor it. There is a wealth of information from Google from the people who sponsored [the California system] who say it didn’t work out the way they thought it would.”

Commissioner Sherry Plymale noted she is pushing a fix (Proposal 11) to the 1998 CRC amendment that was approved by voters and mandated open primaries when only members of one party filed in a race. Office seekers got around that by arranging for write-in candidates on the general election ballot, which closed the primary.

The intent of that 1998 provision was “to allow for open primaries. If the write-in candidate problem is addressed, we will have what was originally intended in our Constitution,” Plymale said. “I think we can overcome all of the tricks that others will try to do to undermine that system.”