Friday, April 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida should close write-in loophole

Thirty five candidates who stand no chance of winning state office wield immense power over Florida's primary elections. They are the write-ins, sham candidates whose participation is allowed because of a legal loophole state legislators refuse to close. Their names don't appear on the ballot, yet they are allowed, election after election, to close off races to single political parties, disenfranchising millions of voters and fostering cynicism. The best solution is for Florida to open its primaries, allowing voters of any party (or no party) to vote. Short of that, the write-in scam should be eliminated.

An amendment to Florida's Constitution was supposed to settle this issue. Voters approved a 1998 amendment that says primaries in which only one political party fields candidates should be open to all voters. So if two Republicans file to run in a state House race but no Democrats enter, then all voters, regardless of party registration, would get to vote in the "universal" primary. It's only fair that everyone should vote when the primary is, in effect, the general election.

But the notion of such widespread voter participation did not sit well in Tallahassee, where a legal loophole found daylight in the form of write-in candidacies. The courts, as recently as this year, have upheld the notion that write-in candidates are legitimate, so legislation clarifying the intent of the amendment is needed. Repeated efforts to pass such a bill have failed, and that is no accident. The two main political parties want to maintain control over elections, and keeping the pool of voters smaller serves that interest.

The toll is millions of disenfranchised voters. As Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet reported, write-in candidates in six state Senate races and 14 state House races have banished 1.6 million voters from the Aug. 30 primary. The damage trickles down to the local level, too. In Pinellas County, only Republicans will get to choose the next property appraiser after a write-in candidate jumped in that race.

When write-in candidates say why they're running — and it's rare that they do — the explanation is blatantly partisan. Christopher Schwantz, who closed the primary as a write-in for a Panhandle House seat, told the Times/Herald that "the system is set up that Republicans can elect Republicans and Democrats can elect Democrats. I don't want someone playing both sides of the fence." Someone should remind Schwantz that 64 percent of Florida voters wanted it that way when they passed the 1998 constitutional amendment.

More often, write-in candidates have nothing to say. They file their requisite paperwork and disappear into the shadows, ducking any accountability. If they aren't partisan activists such as Schwantz, they're recruited ringers such as James Bailey, who used to work for a Tallahassee firm that is managing eight legislative campaigns where write-ins have closed primaries. Bailey, who lives in Clearwater, filed for a House seat in Vero Beach, so now all registered Democrats there are blocked from having a say in choosing their next representative. Bailey, who isn't talking, is following the typical write-in playbook.

The 35 write-in candidates in the Aug. 30 primary set a new record in Florida. Short of a change in statute or another constitutional amendment reaching the ballot, the powers that be in Tallahassee will continue to shamelessly exploit this loophole. And the outcome is always the same: Write-in candidates never win, and the voters always lose.

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Editorial: It’s up to Florida’s voters to restore felons’ civil rights now

The disappointing ruling Wednesday by a federal appeals court should erase any doubt that the decision on restoring voting rights for felons rests solely on the conscience of Florida voters. A tortured ruling by the minimum majority of a three-judge ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Published: 04/25/18
Updated: 04/26/18

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18