Stop The Abuse: It’s Time To Close Florida’s Write-In Loophole

The State of Florida is criticized — sometimes rightfully so — for any number of mind-boggling events, from political shenanigans in Tallahassee to strange laws and bizarre news stories that never cease to amaze.

Among the most stupefying of these issues is the state’s insistence on not fixing a loophole blocking voters from crossing the aisle during primary elections because of phantom write-in candidates who are often nothing more than stooges planted to prevent voting by independent voters or voters from an opposing party, in clear violation of state’s constitution.

In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment making a number of changes to the structure of elections in the state. One key change was the institution of an open primary in races where there will be no opponent in the general election. Basically, should only Republicans or only Democrats file to run for a specific seat, all voters (regardless of party preference, or even lack thereof) would be allowed to participate in the primary election process.

But no sooner did the change become law that both 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 thousands of voters become disenfranchised, because what should be an open primary is not.

The situation is a travesty that considers write-in candidates viable general election opposition, thereby closing party primaries to outsiders even when the primary race often virtually guarantees the winner in November. In almost all circumstances, write-in candidates are not legitimate 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.

Lest you think this isn’t a common occurrence, we just need to look at the past month to see its impact in Palm Beach County. A number of county races were closed due to the write-in loophole during the Aug. 30 primary election. And to add insult to injury, several of those phantom candidates dropped out just weeks after the primary. By virtue of “write-in” candidates who have magically decided they no longer have any interest in representing “we the people,” a quartet of Democrats have won the general election some 60 days before that election takes place. Elected to the Florida House of Representative are David Silvers and Al Jacquet. Mack Bernard has been elected to the Palm Beach County Commission. Katherine Waldron has won a seat on the Port of Palm Beach Commission.

The four candidates officially won when write-in candidates who had qualified to run against them in the Nov. 8 general election withdrew, their job of closing what should have been open primaries now complete. While these newly elected officials — who were all but assured of election anyway upon winning the primary — may very well be wonderful representatives, we have a problem with the fact that many of their future constituents never had a say in the process, thwarting the goals of the 1998 constitutional amendment on a technicality.

This is not the first time that the Town-Crier has called for this loophole to be fixed, to prevent such abuse of the system routinely endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans. For nearly 20 years, both parties have taken advantage of this election loophole, and while it may benefit their individual candidates, too many voters from both parties are left on the sidelines, unable to exercise their basic constitutional right. The write-in loophole needs to be closed, once and for all.