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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: The sneaky way politicians are stealing your votes

Voters exit a polling place during early voting in Miami in 2016. Write-in candidates closed 20 primaries for state House and Senate seats in Florida that year and yet no write-in received more than 0.2 percent of the vote. [Max Reed/The New York Times]
Voters exit a polling place during early voting in Miami in 2016. Write-in candidates closed 20 primaries for state House and Senate seats in Florida that year and yet no write-in received more than 0.2 percent of the vote. [Max Reed/The New York Times]
Published Jul. 4, 2018

There are 85,000 or so registered voters in Hillsborough County who will not have a say in who represents them in state House of Representatives elections this fall.

And just so you know, your state Legislature is okay with that. So is the clown show that passed for the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Because neither lawmakers nor that supposedly august constitutional panel have lifted a finger to fix the most nakedly obvious voter suppression scam in Florida.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of voters around the state are routinely barred from deciding who gets elected due to a sneaky loophole politicians have been exploiting for years.

Elections supervisors have warned about it. Newspapers have reported on it. Voters have screamed about it. And yet nothing seems to change.

Here's how it works:

If all the candidates in an election are limited to one political party, then the primary becomes a general election. That makes sense, right? If the only candidates are Democrats, then the election should not be decided in a closed primary without Republicans and no-party-affiliation voters.

At least that's what voters said when they added this concept to the state Constitution in 1998.

And yet the hucksters in Tallahassee figured out a way around that mandate. By having some random person register as a write-in candidate — and this can be done without gathering petitions, paying registration fees, etc. — the primary is closed.

It doesn't matter if the write-in is Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or a Whig candidate. It also doesn't matter if the write-in mounts no campaign whatsoever. The result is still the same:

As many as half the voters are shut out.

That's what's happening right now with two House seats in Tampa. You have four Democrats in House 61 and three Democrats in House 62, and yet the primaries have been closed by write-in candidates.

Usually, this is nothing more than political maneuvering. It keeps independents and others from voting for the more moderate candidates in the field.

Write-in candidate Valion Joyce, 20, swears that's not true in his case. He filed to run in District 61 because he said it would be good experience if he gets into politics down the road.

Joyce, a junior at Florida State University who listed his permanent address in Tampa, said he knew nothing about the primary being closed. He also said he has not yet done any campaigning. He listed his net worth as zero in campaign filings and reported no income. He also acknowledged he has no hope of winning.

And yet Florida law allows him to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.

That's beyond silly.

We don't need to eliminate write-in candidates; just don't let the write-in candidates eliminate us.

In the 2016 election cycle, there were 20 write-in candidates for Senate and House seats. The best any of them did was 0.2 percent of the vote. In modern history, no write-in has ever won in Florida.

It's ludicrous to give write-in candidates that much power when history says they are little more than bystanders in the election process. And it's stunning to me that voters have allowed this nonsense to continue.