After several months of cooking, a new proposed amendment to Florida’s constitution popped up this week.
What is it?
It’s a mouthful and is called, “All Voters Vote in Top Two Primary Elections for Congress, State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet” and it basically changes the rules for how elections are conducted in Florida.
It does so in three ways.
First, it eliminates closed party primaries for Congress, the state Legislature, governor and Cabinet. All candidates would appear on the same primary ballot, regardless of their party registration. (It appears from a quick read that the candidates will be able to indicate their party preference on the ballot, and the parties could still hold their own primaries to nominate a candidate of their own.)
Second, it lets everyone (thus the name, “All Voters Vote”) vote in those primaries regardless of their party affiliation.
Third, if a candidate gets one vote more than 50 percent, he or she is the winner. If not, the top two vote getters appear in the November general election. (Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, it’s slightly different for congressional races.)
Kind of simple and, I am sure for some, kind of scary.
The plan is being pushed by lawyer Eugene Stearns, a Democrat, and former chief of staff to House Speaker Dick Pettigrew and campaign manager for Reubin Askew, and founder of the Stearns Weaver Miller law firm. He is joined by Republican Jim Smith who was, as many of you may recall, the former Florida Attorney General and Secretary of State. Not a bad pair of résumés if you ask me.
Stearns and Smith say they are concerned about the huge number of voters being carved out of the process because of closed partisan primaries and the resulting lack of consensus-building in our legislative halls. With declining party enrollment (currently 27 percent of registered voters were not allied with a major political party, a percentage that has quadrupled since 1990) and a polarization in the process, they want to be catalysts for changing the current system.
“I think a system that allows all voters an opportunity to vote in an election that matters will fundamentally change how our government does business. Right now, virtually all of our legislative elections are determined in a closed partisan primary which legally bars the majority of voters from participating – and we want to change that,” Stearns said. “I think this would be a great thing for our state and for our country.”
Is this Fair Districts Part Deux?
Stearns, an early supporter of the Fair Districts effort, doesn’t think so. “Fair Districts was about the process of drawing lines – which, when you get down to it, is about carving up power between the two major parties. Our concept is about allowing all voters back into the system and letting them have a voice in choosing who represents them.”
Does he think that it will change the balance of power among the parties?
“No. Absolutely it will not. A Democratic seat will remain Democratic and a Republican seat will remain as such. The difference will be that Democrat and that Republican will be forced to talk to – and will be held accountable by – ALL VOTERS and will not be able to insulate him or herself in a closed partisan primary. It won’t necessarily change the party of the winners, but it will change the conversation.”
The real question for Stearns and company will be about getting on the ballot. Do they have the time or the money?