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Attempt to remove open-primary amendment from ballot fails

The one-page ruling from the court came a week after Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who was the defendant in the lawsuit, slammed the challenge as “tardy, procedurally deficient.”
The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Oct. 29, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — A unanimous Florida Supreme Court threw out a last-ditch attempt by Florida’s political parties to derail Amendment 3 on the November ballot, which asks voters to allow all voters to vote in primaries.

The one-page ruling from the court late Wednesday came a week after Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who was the defendant in the lawsuit, slammed the challenge as “tardy, procedurally deficient, and, if granted, would cause nothing but electoral confusion in perhaps the most important State this election cycle.”

The lawsuit against the initiative known as All Voters Vote was announced by Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican and incoming House speaker, and Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat and former Senate Democratic leader. The plaintiff was Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr., who works for the Central Florida Urban League and is a former vice president for Step Up for Students, the nonprofit scholarship-funding organization that promotes school vouchers.

They argued that if the provision is added to the ballot, Black candidates running in the state’s current legislative districts could be disadvantaged if white candidates run against them in their primaries. But the measure also threatens to undermine political party dominance over legislative races.

Florida has 14 million registered voters, including 5 million registered Republicans, 5.2 million registered Democrats and 3.6 million who have registered as no party affiliated.

If approved by 60 percent of the electorate in November, all voters could vote in state and legislative races regardless of party affiliation, forcing candidates to appeal to a broader constituency beginning in 2024. The two candidates, even two from the same party, who get the most votes in each primary would then advance to the general election.

Glenn Burhans, chair of the All Voters Vote campaign, called the lawsuit “an abuse of the judicial process and mere political theater by the two major political parties” and “a sham.”

The lawsuit cites a report, funded by People Over Profits, a non-profit organization that will not reveal its donors, that Black lawmakers say proves that if Amendment 3 is enacted, voters will choose whites over Blacks and Hispanics in critical legislative seats.

But in briefs filed with the court, the secretary of state, the governor and Cabinet argued that the reports used to justify those claims “bear no indicia [indications] of reliability.”

Lee also said removing it from the ballot would be confusing and disruptive.

"The stakes are at their apex, and the room for error is at its nadir,'' she wrote. “Indeed, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, ‘orders affecting elections, especially conflicting orders, can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls.’”

"We are glad to see that the Florida Supreme Court unanimously agreed and rejected the claim out of hand, while also taking the extraordinary step to preemptively rule that no rehearing, clarification or reinstatement will be entertained by the court,'' Burhans said Wednesday. “It is time for the voters to decide whether to let All Voters Vote.”

Miami healthcare billionaire Miguel “Mike” Fernandez has been the primary benefactor promoting the amendment, which he says is needed to make Florida legislative and state races more competitive and more responsive to voters' needs. He donated over $6 million over a nine-month period and last week injected another $1.3 million into the campaign.

Representing Gilzean was Anne Corcoran, the wife of Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. The lawsuit was paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

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