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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Who needs voters when Florida elections have fixers and frauds?

Published Jul. 7, 2016

So there was a pretty incredible ruling by a judge in Jacksonville in June.

Presented with evidence that a legal loophole had been used specifically to keep 440,000 voters from casting ballots in a local race, the judge basically shrugged his shoulders.

The Legislature wants the loophole, and the state Supreme Court recently condoned the loophole. So, the judge pretty much said, it ain't the judiciary's problem.

No, I suppose it's Florida's problem.

And it's partly why our elections have more in common with a banana republic than an actual, you know, strong democracy.

The loophole is not new. It's been around almost from the moment Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1998 that was supposed to give them a greater voice.

The amendment said if the only candidates for an office were from the same party, then the primary should be open to all voters. In other words, if there are only two Democrats in a race, then Republicans should have a say in that election.

Makes sense, right?

Except Florida's elite are used to choosing their own winners. So the idea of giving voters too much power sounded too WeThePeople-ish to the folks in Tallahassee.

This means they cooked up a scheme that allowed primaries to remain closed if a write-in candidate qualified for an election. Never mind that a write-in does not have to pay a fee or collect petitions like other candidates. Never mind that a write-in doesn't have to take a campaign seriously, and their name doesn't even show up on the ballot.

The Legislature considers a write-in to be a legit opponent and, incredibly, the state Supreme Court agreed a few months ago.

This means, every election, millions of voters around the state are purposefully shut out of primaries by largely bogus candidates. That's no exaggeration. If anything, it's understated.

Consider this:

In the 14 years before the 1998 constitutional amendment, there were a grand total of 24 write-in candidates for the state House and Senate. In the next 14 years, there were 201.

Now, do you suppose that was a coincidence, or a concerted effort to block voters from primaries?

Still not convinced?

Of those 201 write-in candidates, only five got more than 1 percent of the vote and 147 got 0.1 or less. Meanwhile, 22 actually got zero votes, which means they didn't even vote for themselves.

The closest a write-in has come in the past 20 years was a Daytona Beach lawyer who got 6.4 percent of the vote in 2004. Her opponent got 93.6 percent.

And this doesn't even count the voters shut out of countless local elections, such as the upcoming property appraiser's race in Pinellas County.

If you think this sounds bad from a voter suppression standpoint, consider it from an ideological point of view. This practice tends to favor the more extreme candidates in both parties. You see, if your primary opponent is more moderate, then you recruit a write-in to make sure no one from the opposite party has any say in the election.

Delightful, huh?

How the Supreme Court did not recognize this as a cynical circumvention of a constitutional amendment is completely baffling. And infuriating. And heartbreaking.

And, oh so Florida.

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