Posts

Open primaries coming to Florida?

Many citizens are concerned that both major political parties have become too powerful. A growing number see Democrats and Republicans as driven by winning at all cost, too friendly with special interests and using a closed system for picking candidates for public office. One group of citizens from Sarasota, Florida is trying to break this “axis of party power” by having open primary elections for elected officials in Sarasota County, Florida.

According to their website OpenOurElections.com, “We are a local group of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others who have come together to Open Our Elections to all Sarasota County voters.”

OpenOurElections.com has initiated a petition to place an amendment to the Sarasota County Charter on the 2014 ballot. The proposed charter amendment states:

Add a new Subsection 6.5B under Article VI of the Sarasota County Charter:

Subsection 6.5B Non-Partisan Election of County Officers

The members of the Board of County Commissioners and Charter Review Board and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, and Sheriff shall be elected on a non-partisan basis. Names of all candidates shall be placed on the ballot without reference to political party affiliation. The term nonpartisan shall be as defined by state law; provided that nothing therein shall impair the constitutional rights of freedom of speech, press and association.

Sarasota is one of 20 charter counties in Florida. According to the Florida Association of Counties, “In 1968, the electors of Florida granted local voters the power to adopt charters to govern their counties.  Charters are formal written documents that confer powers, duties, or privileges on the county.  They resemble state or federal constitutions and they must be approved, along with any amendments, by the voters of a county.”

The rationale for the OpenOurElections.com petition are:

As with all elections, traditional local elections have candidates of various parties vying for the opportunity to be an elected official of Sarasota County. Usually a candidate of each party, for example a Republican and a Democrat, chosen during a primary (August) faces the opponent of the other party in the general election (November).

In a case where there are only candidates from one party running for a given county office, the winner of the primary becomes the elected official. In this situation, according to Florida State law, ALL registered voters, regardless of party, can vote in the Primary for that office.

However, that same state law also includes a ‘loophole’ that allows someone to close the primary to all other voters. It allows for people to file as ‘write-in’ candidates, usually someone who claims they have no party affiliation, for the General Election for a given office. By having someone as a ‘write-in’ candidate, the Primary will become ‘closed’ to all voters except those of the one party. In effect, this locks out more than half of the registered voters in Sarasota County from voting for our local officials and having a say in who makes the government decisions that affect our quality of life.

This situation occurred with the election for the Sarasota Supervisor of Election race in 2010.

According to OpenOurElections.com, ‘This ‘loophole’ has been used several times and both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of using this tactic to manipulate the elections.”

WDW – FL will be following this initiative.