Lack of time and money slows open primary ballot initiative
Supporters of a game-changing statewide ballot initiative to allow all voters to vote in primaries have shelved plans to get on the 2016 ballot, but say they will redouble their efforts to put the question before voters in 2018.
The proposal, called All Voters Vote, is being spearheaded by, among others, Gene Stearns, a Miami lawyer who was chief of staff to Richard Pettigrew, a Democratic speaker of the Florida House from Miami in the early 1970s. Their goal: end Florida's "closed primary" system in which only Republicans and Democrats can participate in party primaries, and replace it with a system in which everyone could vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election in November.
The proposal is a direct result of the explosion in Florida of voters who have no party affiliation. NPA voters and minor-party voters now comprise 27 percent of the electorate, and they will approach parity with the two major parties within a decade. Both parties strongly oppose an open primary system, and bills filed last session to create open primaries went nowhere in the Legislature.
The chairman of All Voters Vote, Tallahassee lawyer Glenn Burhans Jr., said there simply isn't enough time to raise the money needed to get sufficient signatures from voters to put the question on the ballot. A ballot initiative requires more than 683,000 valid signatures that must be validated by county election supervisors by next Feb. 1. Signatures must be submitted in early January, and groups must pay 10 cents for every signature submitted.
"The money is a big deal," Burhans said. "It takes a lot of effort and resources to get there, and there are a lot of competing interests in the current election cycle that make it difficult and challenging to raise money. But this issue and our perceived solution are not going away. We're going to continue to build up our network ... We just didn't have the runway length we needed."