It’s easy to understand why voters are frustrated with Florida’s democratic system. In many cases, the outcomes of elections are effectively prearranged, thanks to the outsized influence of the two major political parties, bundled contributions from special interests and gerrymandered districts that give insiders the edge. But a constitutional amendment on this year’s general election ballot could take a broken democratic process and make it worse. Voters should reject Amendment 3 and push Florida lawmakers to find a more inclusive solution.
Amendment 3 would allow all registered voters to vote in primaries for state legislature, governor, and cabinet regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for these offices would appear on the same primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election. If only two candidates qualify for an office, no primary would be held and the general election would determine the winner. If approved by at least 60 percent of the voters on Nov. 3, the change would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Should it succeed, the measure would enable about 3.7 million registered voters (out of Florida’s 14-million total) who are not affiliated with a major party to participate in partisan primary races. Supporters say it’s healthy for democracy to give the growing number of independents a greater say in the electoral process and in directing the future of America’s third-largest state. Proponents also say the change would help curb partisanship and gridlock by encouraging more centrist candidates to run and fostering more competitive districts.
These are ideal goals, but the amendment would also have less appealing consequences. The measure does nothing to stop big-money candidates from entering the field, or to prevent the parties or special interests from fielding straw candidates to propel a favorite past the primary. Black legislators say Amendment 3 would diminish the political clout of Black and Hispanic voters; opening up primaries to Republicans and independents, they say, will dilute minority voting strength and make it harder for Black and Hispanic candidates to emerge from a top-two system. An analysis released last month by the nonprofit People Over Profits, which opposes the amendment, predicts Black representation would fall in both chambers of the Legislature if the measure passes. In the House, eight of the 17 Black majority districts would see a significant reduction in likelihood of candidates of color winning under a top-two system, the analysis says, while in the Senate, all four Black senators representing majority-minority districts would have a more difficult time winning elections.
And by codifying this change through a constitutional amendment, voters are raising the bar for any future reforms, which would likely require another constitutional referendum as opposed to a statutory fix by the Legislature. That’s putting a lot of hope in this amendment to deliver as promised given the cost and high hurdles of putting an amendment on the ballot in the first place.
There are better ways to open the electoral process to voters disaffected by the status quo. Allowing voters to choose in which party primary to participate, or holding primary runoff elections, could expand the voter pool and create a more favorable environment for centrist candidates. And these changes should begin in state law, not the constitution. The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends a No vote on Amendment 3.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news