Too many Florida voters are being shut out of important elections. The new “All Voters Vote” initiative offers a thoughtful, practical solution.
Disenfranchisement of independent voters is a growing problem. Except in rare cases, voters who choose to not align themselves with a major political party cannot vote in primaries. In the general election, they either have to choose between candidates selected by other voters or they can choose not to vote.
At the end of June, according to the state Division of Elections, Broward County had 553,950 registered Democrats, 238,234 Republicans and a whopping 285,062 voters with no party affiliation.
In Palm Beach County, “no party” didn’t quite outstrip Republicans, as it did in Broward, but the count was close. Palm Beach had 363,886 registered Democrats, 234,584 registered Republicans and 217,381 with no party affiliation.
Statewide last year, more than half of new voters did not identify with a major political party.
That upsurge in voters who shun the Democrat and Republican labels represents a statewide trend and renders current primary procedures unfair and obsolete.
All Voters Vote would address the problem by amending the state constitution to require a new kind of primary setup. In this new system — which would apply to races for Congress, the state Legislature, governor and Cabinet — all candidates regardless of political party would run in a single primary open to all voters.
The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election, again regardless of party.
There are a couple of wrinkles. Except in congressional contests, if one of the primary candidates wins a majority of votes in the primary, he or she would be elected to the office and would not need to run in the general election. Current federal law does not allow congressional winners to be chosen in a primary.
Democrats, Republicans and other political parties still could designate their official nominees, who would be listed as such on the primary ballot. But of course they could not go on to the general election or to office unless they prevailed in the primary open to all voters. Parties would be forbidden to choose their nominees with methods that required public funds.
It is important to note that the amendment would not affect partisan primaries to select presidential candidates.
Florida so far has taken only rudimentary steps to accommodate all voters in primaries. Under the current system, if the winner of a partisan primary would face no opposition in the general election, the primary is open to all. But parties easily have thwarted that mild reform by fielding bogus candidates solely to close the primaries.
The major parties of course are unlikely to embrace the All Voters Vote initiative, which has begun raising money and signatures in hopes of finding a place on the 2016 ballot. Democrats and Republicans don’t like anything that will limit their influence.
Too bad. Not only does the current system disenfranchise too many voters, it exaggerates the power of extreme views in both parties. The result is a widening ideological gap that creates gridlock and leaves moderates without a choice and without a voice.
You can quibble with some aspects of the All Voters Vote proposal. If both candidates in the general election are from the same party — or no party — the debate and choices might not be as robust. And a winner elected in the primary can be spared having to take a position on major issues and events that emerge closer to the general election.
The primary system goes to the heart of political representation and therefore is a legitimate issue for a constitutional amendment. This proposed amendment needs hundreds of thousands of signatures to get onto the ballot. Fortunately all voters — and not just those motivated to vote in partisan primaries — are eligible to sign.