Friday, November 24, 2017
Politics

Closed primaries cry out for voter reform

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They won't have a voice in the decision.

Not really.

On Aug. 26, the Supervisor of Elections Office will tally the votes in the Republican primary race for Hillsborough County Commission District 4. The winner will be all but assured of taking control of the position for the next four years.

But more than 60 percent of the registered voters in that district won't have the chance to influence the outcome.

Even though they may be super voters — people who vote in every election — they won't get to cast a vote in this particular race. Even though they may care greatly about the decisions that impact their subdivisions, their neighborhoods and their communities, they will have no say on who will be their next county commissioner.

The Republican primary victor — either Rick Cochran, Janet Dougherty or Stacy White — will simply have to defeat write-in candidate Christopher Lawrence Weaver in the general election to take the office. That is a simple task. Write-in candidates never win.

But because of Weaver's entry into the race, the law closes the primary election to Democratic and independent voters. In District 4, that's 64,888 Democrats, 45,928 independents and another 7,302 voters under the category of "other," according to statistics from the county elections supervisor.

Talk about voter suppression.

As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler noted in a recent story, this isn't limited to one race or a single party.

In State House District 64, 44,670 Democrats and independents (59 percent) will get shut out of the race between Jamie Grant and Miriam Steinberg, thanks to write-in candidate Daniel Johnson Matthews

In State House District 61, 31,062 Republicans and independents (a little less than 35 percent) will be shut out of a race featuring four Democrats — Sharon Carter, Tatiana Denson, Ed Narain and Shawn Shaw — because another little-known candidate, Nicole Santiago, has launched a write-in campaign.

Don't call this a technicality. This is election strategy by crafty consultants who find near-anonymous citizens to enter the races and create closed primaries. Sadly, it's standard operating procedure in Florida politics. Strategists criticize a party for not closing a primary instead of questioning the entire process.

The answer isn't getting the parties to field candidates who have little chance of winning. The answer is open primaries. By allowing all interested voters to exercise their rights, candidates would have to craft campaigns with broader appeal. Once in office, they would have to build a record with broader appeal.

Is it possible that our nation grows more divided and our government gets more dysfunctional because between gerrymandered districts and this kind of election trickery we're electing candidates who only have to appeal to the extreme sides in each party?

Definitely.

There must be a better way. The closed primary approach cries out for election reform.

If members of the suffrage movement fought to give voting rights to women, if civil rights workers died so blacks couldn't be denied, if the men and women of our military fight to protect our freedoms, we can't allow a large voting bloc to be shut out because of partisan gamesmanship and political high jinks.

That's all I'm saying.

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