Most everyone is aware that Florida has a checkered history when it comes to elections. From the 2000 ‘hanging chad’ fiasco to the recent gerrymandered redistricting battle that cost taxpayers millions, our state likes its elections convoluted, complex and controversial.
How else to explain a rule that allows a write in candidate who doesn’t even live in the district to close a primary election that would otherwise be open to all voters?
Each state has its own primary rules and Florida’s are doozies. If all candidates for a seat are of one party, the rules say that seat will be on everyone’s primary ballot because the winner will be decided during the primary. Whether you’re a registered Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or No Party Affiliation (NPA), you get to vote.
Cool! We all get to weigh in! Just like it’s supposed to be. Just like our Civics class told us. Sadly it took voters passing a constitutional amendment in 1998 to open primaries to all voters if every candidate was from the same party. This is Florida, after all.
Our politicians then found a way around that pesky constitutional amendment – write in candidates. They don’t pay filing fees, don’t campaign and historically, have zero chance of winning. The only thing they do is close the primary election. So, that race with three candidates from one party? Add in a write in and the primary between those three real candidates is closed to all but that party’s members. The winner will face the write in candidate in the November General Election, by way of a blank line provided on the ballot. But we all know that the real election was the primary.
This farce is played out all across our state and is a bipartisan problem. Die-hard party leaders like this arrangement. Parties deny any part in arranging to close primaries with write in candidates. So do candidates for the most part. If they’re not wrangling write in candidates, who is? We’re to believe that all these people, and there are dozens across the state from both parties, have just all had a spontaneous rush of curiosity about what it would be like to run as a write in candidate, knowing they won’t campaign, won’t win and may be subject to some media scrutiny? Sounds suspicious to me.
I’m weary of this rigged system. Turns out there are a lot of Florida voters who are pretty tired of being left out of the real decisions on who will represent them.
I’ve been an NPA voter, as Florida calls me, or Independent for most of my voting life. I registered as a Republican once to support a friend running for office. And I registered as a Democrat once to participate in the 2008 Iowa caucuses – a revelatory political experience and done to see firsthand how the Iowa caucuses worked. But mostly, I’m Independent.
Living in SWFL has left me feeling virtually disenfranchised. Too many ballots with the only choices being the winner of the Republican primary and a blank line representing a shill who doesn’t care about being on the ballot or serving the community.
Let’s be realistic. The winner in many races in our area is chosen in the Republican primary. It’s been decades since a Democrat or NPA has beat a Republican here. Those stats are reversed in other parts of the state, but that’s our reality.
Right now, in SWFL, unless you vote in the Republican primary, your vote means little or nothing beyond the non-partisan seats. Not that the non-partisan races are unimportant, but they are only part of the ballot. Even if you vote in November, the winner for most seats has already been decided in the primary. Without you, unless you are a registered Republican.
It may be our water quality issues, or maybe it’s Amendment One or any of a half dozen other issues that make me ask on a regular basis, “What are they thinking?”
Ticket to Primary Vote That Matters
Whatever it is, I’m tossing in the towel and registering as a Republican this year so that I have a voice in the primary. Friends on the conservative side will throw their hands in the air, exclaiming that I’ve finally seen the light. Friends who lean the other direction will think I’ve gone to the dark side. I can live with that. I see it simply as my ticket to get in the door where the real decisions are being made.
As of today, Lee County has 180,700 registered Republicans, 113,185 registered Democrats and 116,879 others. This means that only 44% of voters will decide who our County Commissioner will be, while the other 56% sit on the sidelines in the primary. Unless of course, they all vote for the mystery write in candidate in November.
44% will decide the Sheriff’s race, unless you think an NPA has a shot there. Our next State Senator will be decided in the Republican primary also. You want a say in that? I do, so I’m changing my registration to Republican.
I do so with some sadness at the realization that the system has failed voters like me, leaving us effectively disenfranchised. I’m also mad as hell that the system works this way. But it does.
I’ll play their game because I think that having a voice in who represents me is that important. Fool that I am, I believe in what that Civics course taught me.
To change party affiliation, go to any Elections Office or download a form online (lee.vote) and mail it to the Elections Office before 5pm August 1st. If you’re mad as hell about being left out at the ballot box, I invite you to join me.
Every vote should matter.