Last Friday was the final qualifying deadline for candidates running for office in this year’s election cycle, and once again, the election process has been marred by the inclusion of nameless write-in candidates. It’s a loophole constantly abused by both parties to deny a majority of voters a say in the election process.
Back in 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment making a number of changes to the structure of elections in the state. One of the key changes was the institution of an open primary in races where there will be no opponent in the general election — a common occurrence in districts that sharply favor one party or another. Should only Democrats or only Republicans file to run for a seat, all voters would get the opportunity to be part of the process. No sooner did the change become law, the parties figured out a loophole. Add a write-in candidate to the mix — someone whose name will not even appear on the general election ballot — and suddenly it’s no longer “uncontested” in November. The primary remains closed and the majority of voters remain disenfranchised. Both parties take advantage of this glitch in election law, and while it may benefit their individual candidates, too many voters are left on the sidelines unable to exercise their basic constitutional right.
Following the recent redistricting process, State Senate District 27 was redrawn as a Palm Beach County seat. Previously, the district spanned nearly from one coast to the other, making the choice every bit as much about the candidates’ location as their party. However, now that its geographical boundaries make sense, voters living in the district have another problem: The only candidates to appear on the ballot are Democrats Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens, both state representatives seeking a promotion. If it were just Bernard and Clemens, anyone registered to vote in District 27 would be able to take part in the August primary. However, a write-in candidate named Travis Genard Harris also filed paperwork. His name will not even appear on the November ballot, but since he filed a piece of paper, Republicans and independents in District 27 have been disenfranchised. Don’t look for campaign materials from Mr. Harris. He’s not there to actually run. He’s just hanging out keeping voters from the ballot box.
This is just one case, of course. In the newly drawn State House District 82, five Republicans and zero Democrats are seeking the North County seat. Thanks to someone named Beverly Joy Hires, who joined the race as a write-in candidate, anyone in District 82 who’s not registered as a Republican will sit this one out and have no say on who their state representative is.
Voters are growing increasingly disillusioned with the two-party system, and one of the reasons is the feeling among many that elections are rigged from start to finish. This write-in loophole is just one of the most obscene examples. What needs to happen is for lawmakers to put an end to this game. It’s an idea that former State Sen. Dave Aronberg championed for a while, but the party bosses in the state legislature never wanted to fix the “fix.”
If the politicians lack the fortitude to do the right thing, then Florida voters should start a grassroots campaign for a constitutional amendment that will fix this problem. Voters fought for and (mostly) won the fight for more logically drawn districts. But as long as both parties continue to take advantage of the write-in candidate loophole, fair districts won’t mean much to the scores of voters who will be left out of the electoral process. That’s not what representative democracy is about.