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  1. Opinion

Let all voters take part in the primaries | Column

Fixing the system should start with enfranchising 3.5 million Floridians who are shut out of the closed primary system, writes an advocate for Amendment 3.

Voters in Florida are frustrated by highly gerrymandered districts as well as the outsized influence of money and of the two major political parties. How can Florida’s elected officials truly reflect Florida’s rich diversity — and be held accountable to the greatest number of her citizens — if nearly 30 percent of all voters are excluded from the primary process? Florida’s legislative districts are not competitive by design of the major parties; whoever wins the primary wins the seat.

Glenn Burhans [ KIRA DERRYBERRY | Provided ]

The system is broken and allowing all voters the chance to have a voice is exactly what is needed for the preservation of our republic. That is what Amendment 3 would allow.

Florida is one of only nine states with closed primaries. Florida taxpayers fund these elections and we should not be denied the chance to vote on who will represent us in Tallahassee just because of our party affiliation — even if that affiliation is “no party.”

Compelled association is distinctly un-American and registered voters should not be forced to join a party just to cast a ballot for who will represent them. The truth is that even those who do belong to a major party are also excluded if they happen to live in one of those gerrymandered seats and do not belong to the party that has a lock on winning that seat.

A critical misstep by opponents of All Voters Vote — including the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board — is reliance upon a misleading and flawed report that excludes nearly 3.8 million actual voters and voting results to suggest that letting all registered voters vote in primaries is somehow harmful to those voters, minority voters in particular.

Closed party primaries exclude more than 3.5 million non-party affiliated (NPA) voters — 1.5 million of whom are taxpaying voters of color. The notion that allowing 1.5 million voters of color to vote in primaries will harm minority representation is absurd. In reality, states allowing all voters to vote in a top two primary has resulted in increased minority representation. Which makes sense: when you let all voters vote, the result will be more representative of the electorate — not just the narrow sliver of major party members controlling the closed primary.

The flawed report also ignores (on purpose?) the fact that more races will become more competitive — creating swing seats that will benefit from expanded minority access to the ballot. For example, Florida House District 43 — a rare swing seat — is represented by a Black woman. The report falsely claims that Black access Senate seats will be harmed; however, the report fails to note that two of those seats are held by non-minority senators — the report’s “analysis” just doesn’t hold up.

Opponents vaguely point to gamesmanship, such as running sham candidates. That is a myth that has not materialized in states with top two systems. But we need only look at Florida to know that such claims ring hollow. Florida’s 412 municipalities and most county, school board and judicial elections use a similar top two system in which the 3.5 million NPA voters, including 1.5 million voters of color, are allowed to participate.

Those elections are not fraught with such games and, more importantly, the results are more reflective of the electorate. Is it any wonder that citizens have higher satisfaction with their local government than their state or federal counterparts? Could it be because politicians are held to account when all voters vote?

It is true that this ballot measure does not limit the influence of money and big money candidates. That is undeniably true, and the unfortunate result of current state law.

Do we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, especially when letting all voters vote is undeniably fundamental to democracy? I suggest that it not. Instead, let’s take the first step on the road to reform by letting all voters vote. For today however, it is one step and one voter at a time. Thank you for your consideration.

Glenn Burhans is the chair of All Voters Vote. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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