In 1998, Floridians upended state government. Through a series of constitutional amendments, voters slimmed down the state cabinet, putting much more power in the hands of the governor. While that was the more high-profile change, at the same time, Floridians passed a measure designed to upend the two-party monopoly’s control over ballot access.
Amendment 11 passed by nearly a two-to-one margin. It promised that “ballot access requirements for independent and minor-party candidates cannot be greater than requirements for major party candidates” and “allows all voters, regardless of party, to vote in any party’s primary election if the winner will have no general election opposition.”
The first half of this promise has been kept. Once the private domain of Democrats and Republicans, more choices now greet voters — in presidential election years, often a lot more. However, the second half of this promise to the electorate never bore fruit. Why? A loophole regularly exploited by both major parties to make sure that party primaries stay closed.
The aim was to ensure that all voters could participate, even when one of the major parties fails to field a candidate, as frequently occurs in gerrymandered districts drawn to be dominated by one party.
The write-in travesty is the result of a loophole in the law that considers a write-in candidate a viable general election opposition, thereby closing party primaries to outsiders even when the primary race will virtually guarantee the winner. In almost all circumstances, write-in candidates are not real candidates. While no-party or minor-party candidates must pay ballot-access fees or collect signatures to get their names on the ballot, write-in candidates do not. Their names will not appear on the ballot. They will be represented only by a blank line.
What is the significance of that blank line? In many cases, the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. Need an example? Look no further than last month’s Democratic primary in the 21st Congressional District. Congressman Ted Deutch easily won re-election in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, trouncing challenger Emmanuel Morel in a district that includes nearly all of Wellington. But wait! Technically, he wasn’t re-elected. There’s a write-in candidate “in the race.” Are you a Republican or independent voter in District 21? Without the write-in, you would have been able to vote in the election.
This example is just one of dozens of similar situations that play out each election year throughout Florida in both parties. The situation is ludicrous, and the loophole can easily be remedied. State Attorney Dave Aronberg worked on fixing the problem during his time in the State Senate. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that the party bosses don’t want fixed. Hyper-partisans were not in favor of Amendment 11 when it passed, and they’re certainly not in favor of letting it do the job it was intended to do. That’s too bad, because Florida’s electorate deserves better.