Panama City News Herald Letter to the Editor by Steve Hough
October 25, 2017
On Wednesday, Oct. 4, I attended the first meeting of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission’s (CRC) Ethics and Elections Committee. Several County Supervisors of Elections were scheduled to make presentations to the committee concerning our state’s current primary process. After contacting the committee chair, I was allowed to address the committee and present a petition in support of a top-two open primary to the members.
The supervisors’ presentations accentuated the phenomenal growth of non-affiliated voters in our state, and they were in agreement that our closed primaries are the source of confusion among many voters, especially young voters and those who have had different experiences prior to moving to Florida. You may view the video of the meeting at http://thefloridachannel.org/videos/10417-constitution-revision-commission-ethics-elections-committee.
We now have 3.4 million non-affiliated voters, in Florida, which represents 27 percent of our electorate. I believe the information provided the committee had an impact, and reinforced the need to close the abominable “write-in loophole”. In fact, Commissioner Plymale sponsored State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s proposal to do just that, and it was readily accepted by the full commission two days prior on October 2.
However, I believe that issue should have been resolved twenty years ago when the previous amendment was written and approved. The intent was clear, but partisans were able to use the loophole to bend the rules to their advantage.
While that may be water under the bridge, the current CRC should not be content to correct inadequate language produced by the 1997-1998 CRC. Based on the explosion of non-affiliated voter registrations, I believe the CRC should recognize the new reality and take the bold step of forwarding an amendment to institute a top-two nonpartisan open primary.
As the Director of the state-wide, grassroots organization, Florida Fair and Open Primaries, I partnered with the national organization Open Primaries to collect signatures on a petition in support of our amendment proposal #700575. Over the course of six weeks, punctuated by Hurricane Irma, we collected 6,090 signatures. I was pleased to see 65 of those signatures coming from the Panama City area.
Our proposal would require a level playing field for both voters and candidates.
In a top-two open primary, all candidates would have equal access to the primary ballot. All candidates would appear on a single ballot and all voters, regardless of affiliation, or lack thereof, would vote for the candidate of their choice. The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election.
For some time, it has been my opinion that such a process presents our best hope for improving a system where gerrymandering and low voter turnout in primaries determine winners in 90 percent of our political contests.