Another session will end with the reviled write-in loophole intact
Every session of the Florida Legislature is partly defined by what doesn't get done, and the 2017 session is no different.
Another year will pass without lawmakers closing the notorious "write-in loophole" that candidates, consultants and political parties use to manipulate election outcomes by preventing independent voters from having a voice in primary elections in all 67 counties. A 1998 amendment to the state Constitution says all voters can vote in a primary if the primary winner will have "no opposition in the general election," but state courts have ruled that write-ins are legitimate candidates. Neither the Republican Party of Florida nor the Florida Democratic Party has shown much enthusiasm for closing a loophole that protects Florida's closed primary system.
Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, filed a one-sentence bill intended to close the loophole. It reads: "If a primary election would, if not for the presence of one or more write-in candidates, be open to all qualified electors pursuant to Sec. 5(b), Art. VI of the State Constitution, the primary election shall be open to all qualified electors." (Simple enough, right?)
Burgess' HB 1381 never received a hearing. Its first stop was the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City. Combee told the Times/Herald that his staff director, attorney Tiffany Harrington, concluded that the way Burgess' bill was written, closing the loophole would require an amendment to the state Constitution, and that requires 60 percent voter approval in a statewide general election.
Burgess cited another hurdle: No companion bill was filed in the Senate.
The Times/Herald reported that the loophole was used in more races than ever all over the state in 2016, and had the effect of disenfranchising more than a million Florida voters, thus denying them a voice in many elections. The loophole could be a major factor again in the next election cycle in 2018.
Burgess has been busy this session, managing complex legislation dealing with proposed changes to the state workers' compensation system. He said he considers the write-in loophole an abuse and will make it a priority in the 2018 session.