Closing Florida’s write-in loophole is right thing to do

Sherry Plymale
Photo: TC Palm, contributed from Meredith Beatrice

TC Palm by Sherry Plymale, CRC Commissioner

October 5, 2017

Sometimes there are issues that shouldn’t be a matter of politics and should be addressed because it is the right and ethical thing to do.

As a commissioner on the Constitution Revision Commission — a commission that meets every 20 years to review and propose changes to Florida’s Constitution for voter consideration — I’m making it my mission to take on a problem that has prevented thousands of Floridians from voting in certain primary elections over the past two decades.

There currently exists a dubious “loophole” in the Florida Constitution that has allowed individuals across the political spectrum to manipulate state and local elections.

Florida, like many other states, has a closed primary system. This means that during primary elections, registered voters can only vote in their own party’s primary. In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment to open primary elections to all voters, regardless of political affiliation, when the winner of that primary election would face no opposition in the upcoming general election.

Interestingly enough, this amendment was put on the ballot by the previous Constitution Revision Commission and passed with more than 64 percent of voter support. The 1997-1998 commission could not have foreseen that their well-meaning change to improve fairness during primary elections for voters could be easily manipulated.

In 2000, a state agency issued an advisory opinion stating “a write-in candidate constitutes opposition in a general election” as it related to Article VI, Section 5(b) of the Florida Constitution. In other words, the advisory opinion concluded a write-in candidate was enough to close a primary election in Florida, even if the winner would not face a major party rival in the general election.

It’s important to note that a write-in candidate has never won any major election in Florida, and they don’t pay filing fees or collect petitions when qualifying for office. This makes it all too easy for individuals to close primary elections by propping up write-in candidates to create an unfair political advantage.

The 2000 advisory opinion also states, “If the framers of Revision 11 (the 1998 CRC) had wished specifically to exclude write-in candidates as opposition in the general election, they could have done so.”

Since March, the commission has been traveling the state holding public hearings and fielding public comments. We have heard many Floridians talking about the need to close the write-in loophole. Addressing this issue is common sense and will help restore voters’ faith in our elections process.

On Oct. 2, I made a motion to support Public Proposal 700396 during a meeting of the full committee in Tallahassee. This public proposal, which now is officially referred to as Commissioner Proposal 11, closes the write-in loophole and was originally submitted by former State Senator and current Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg.

Even though Aronberg is a Democrat and I’m a Republican, we both agree the write-in loophole has been allowed to exist for too long. Closing the loophole is the right thing to do for Florida voters.

If you agree, I urge you to contact my fellow commissioners to let us know if you support Commissioner Proposal 11.

If the proposal eventually passes the commission’s final vote next spring, it would be placed on Florida’s 2018 general election ballot. All proposed constitutional amendments need to obtain at least 60 percent voter approval to officially become law and revise the Florida Constitution.

Public participation is one of the most critical components of the committee’s process and I am personally grateful to the thousands of Floridians who have taken the time to contact the Constitution Revision Commission.

Public Proposal 700396 and the comments I heard during public hearings about closing the write-in loophole are one example of how Floridians can have a voice during this process and help initiate important change.

You can learn more about the CRC process at flcrc.gov[READ MORE]

Sherry Plymale is a commissioner serving on the 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission. A political scientist and resident of Palm City since 1974, she has dedicated her career to community action and public policy. She previously served as the Director of Cabinet and Legislative Affairs and the Chief of Staff of the Florida Department of Education while Frank Brogan was the commissioner. 

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