TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case challenging the constitutionality of a proposed 2020 ballot amendment that would replace the state's closed primary election process with primaries open to voters of all political stripes, including 3.6 million Floridians registered under 'no party affiliation'.
Capital Bureau Reporter Troy Kinsey has five questions and answers about the proposal.
Why is the amendment being proposed?
The amendment has been drafted by All Voters Vote, an organization bankrolled by Mike Fernandez, a billionaire financier who had been active in Florida Republican fundraising circles but grew disenchanted with the anti-immigration tilt of his party under former Gov. Rick Scott and, most recently, President Trump.
Fernandez is now a political independent who argues that closed primaries are resulting in ever more ideologically extreme candidates winning their parties' nominations, thereby worsening the state's growing political polarization. Allowing no party affiliation voters and others to vote alongside party loyalists, he says, would lead to the selection of more moderate candidates that would then face off in the general election.
What would the amendment do?
Right now only people who are registered members of a political party can vote in that party's primary election.
This amendment would change that. Florida would instead go to what is known as a "Jungle Primary," where all candidates, regardless of political party, would be on one ballot, including no party affiliation and write-in candidates. The top two vote getters would then advance to the general election.
In states with jungle primary systems, notably California, there have been instances where the 'top two' are members of the same political party, generally giving voters less, not more, choice in November.
What is the status of the amendment?
All Voters Vote has now collected more than the required 766,200 registered voter signatures for the amendment to be placed on next November's ballot. Assuming the signatures are deemed valid, the amendment's fate is up to the Supreme Court, which is charged with deciding if its language is clear and meets a 'single subject' requirement.
Why is the language being challenged?
Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, has filed a brief that contends the amendment is misleading because it fails to detail how parties could internally select candidates to appear on the primary ballot. The state Democratic and Republican parties are also challenging the amendment as misleading.
How did the Supreme Court justices react to Tuesday's arguments?
With a large dose of skepticism about the arguments the amendment's critics were making. Chief Justice Charles Canady, in particular, expressed bewilderment about the legal principles being cited. "I cannot follow your reasoning on how that disenfranchises anyone," he told Robert McNeely, an attorney for the Democratic Party.