This week, 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls debated the issues—and each other. Under Florida’s ‘closed’ primary system, only registered Democrats can vote for any of them during the primary election next March. But that could change in future primary seasons.
The Florida Supreme Court is reviewing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow all registered voters in Florida—including the 3.2 million who are unaffiliated—to cast ballots in a primary election.
Attorney General Ashley Moody sent the measure to the Supreme Court last week without raising any objections. The proposal would give Florida blanket primaries, commonly known as ‘jungle’ or ‘top-two’ primaries. Under such a system, all candidates would run against each other regardless of political affiliation and the top two would advance.
Supporters hope to get the proposal on the November 2020 ballot, but Florida Democrats have mixed feelings. Historically, fewer Democrats vote in primary elections than Republicans in the state. That's why Steve Simeonidis, the Chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, objects to the proposal.
“It’s going to end up limiting choice, it’s going to end up favoring high turnout voter groups,” he said. “We sag much more in terms of turnout numbers, especially among the young and the minorities in off year or primary elections, whereas the Republicans remain far more consistent.”
The proposed changes are distinct from an open primary, in which unaffiliated voters can vote but affiliated voters can only vote for candidates from their party. The proposal is significant because unaffiliated voters—nearly 30% of all registered voters in Florida—make up Florida’s fastest growing constituency.
“My observations are that when I do voter registration with people, a lot of young people don’t want to choose one of the two major parties,” said Marybeth Prusher, Voter Registration Chair for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.
She always explains to prospective voters looking to register as independents that Florida’s is a closed primary system. “What I ask my volunteers to do is look at the person and say ‘Hey, did you know that Florida is a closed primary state?’ Nine times out of 10 I get a blank stare.”
That leads Prusher to believe that opening up the primaries “might be a good idea because there are a lot of non affiliated young people who would participate in selecting the candidate and might have a bigger stake when it came to the general election.”
In addition to the Supreme Court’s approval of the ballot wording, backers of the proposed constitutional amendment need to submit at least 766,200 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1 of next year. As of early this week, the proposal jungle primaries had already received more than half the necessary signatures.