GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida's closed system that prevents nearly 4 million unaffiliated voters from casting ballots during primary elections could change, depending on the outcome of a vote on a constitutional amendment that Democrats and Republicans are aligned in opposing.
Amendment 3, known as the “All Voters Vote” amendment, is meant to allow all registered voters to cast ballots in state elections regardless of political affiliation starting in January 2024.
The candidates who receive the two highest votes would move on to the general election.
At least 30 states have open or partially open primaries. Florida is one of nine states with closed primaries. In addition to both major political parties urging voters to reject the measure, some leading civil rights groups also oppose the amendment in Florida, saying it will harm minority representation.
The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a late effort to sink the amendment by a prominent civil rights activist, Glenton Gilzean, who argued that the change would diminish the political influence of half the state’s majority-Black districts during primaries.
Gilzean told the court that if the open-primary system had been in place in 2018, the candidates for governor would have been Republicans Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, not Democrat Andrew Gillum. DeSantis narrowly beat Gillum by 32,463 votes out of 8.1 million in total.
Currently, Florida is a closed primary state, meaning only people who are registered with a party may vote for candidates in that party’s primaries. Florida currently has about 14.5 million registered voters, but more than one-fourth of those are not affiliated with any party – and are precluded from voting in Florida’s primaries.
Only about 28 percent of all registered voters cast ballots in this year’s primaries in Florida.
The amendment would affect statewide elections, including for governor, legislature and the cabinet, said Aubrey Jewett, the treasurer of the Florida Political Science Association, a group that encourages research and community service by political scientists.
If the amendment passed, future general elections could offer voters the choice between two candidates from the same political party. But it also could improve voter turnout in Florida since non-affiliated voters or people registered with minor parties could vote in primaries.
Republicans said the amendment would be expensive for counties and “insert confusion and chaos and undo a system that has worked fairly for years.” Democrats feared the change would lead to races between two Republican choices in Florida.
The group that started this ballot initiative is All Voters Vote. Its chairman, Glenn Burhans, said, “We think that by letting our voters vote is the best way to conduct elections and we want to give a voice to disenfranchised voters.”
The amendment was bankrolled partly by billionaire Miguel B. "Mike" Fernandez of Coral Gables, a devout Republican but a vocal critic of President Donald Trump. He is among the top political donors and fundraisers in Florida.
“We think the low-turnout closed primaries are not representative of the diversity that really exists in all of our districts,” said Steve Hough, the director of Florida’s Fair and Open Primaries, a grassroots, nonpartisan organization advocating for Florida to change to an open primary since 2012. “NPAs should be allowed to vote in the primaries, not only because we think their voices should be heard, but also because every election is held by the government and taxpayers pay for it.”
The change could cost counties more than $5 million over the first three election cycles, according to the state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference, which developed a formal estimate. There would be no expected impact to the state budget.
It’s unusual for Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything in Florida, but the parties are aligned against the amendment.
"The Florida Democratic Party supports a system that gives voters more opportunities to choose a candidate that reflects their values, and this ballot initiative would do exactly the opposite,” Democratic Party leader Terrie Rizzo said during a forum earlier this month.
Burhans said at the same forum that the change would encourage parties to be less extreme and provide consensus for voters since major parties would have to appeal directly to all potential voters.
Some of Florida’s minority rights advocates also oppose the change, including Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Florida.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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