Democrats Debate Registration, Primary Changes

Democrats Debate Registration, Primary Changes

By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida

ORLANDO — The Florida Democratic Party’s biggest event of the year wrapped up this weekend with a debate over whether the party should push for semi-open primaries and Election Day voter registration as soon as 2020.

The issues were considered as Democrats plot ways to win the nation’s largest battleground state in next year’s presidential election and focus on registering voters and fixing mistakes made in 2018.

However, only one of the proposals was backed by the party’s executive committee, which endorsed a resolution that would allow Floridians to register to vote and cast ballots on Election Day.

That resolution would require the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis to approve changes to state election laws.

“It is unrealistic to expect this Republican Legislature to pass such a progressive initiative,” said former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Juan Cuba, who has recently voiced concerns with current party leadership.

Even those who supported the resolution saw it as more of a symbolic effort to increase voter participation in next year’s elections, rather than a do-able plan.

“I think this is more a statement of principle,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who added he does not see Republican lawmakers passing such a bill. “The only thing we can control on our own is the primary process.”

High-profile Democratic figures and some party activists are seeking to revamp how primaries work in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state. They want to allow non-party affiliated voters to cast ballots in Democratic primaries. The proposal, pushed by Miami-Dade Democrats, did not receive the necessary support to pass Sunday as the state party ended its annual Leadership Blue weekend gathering.

“I think the vast majority of the room was opposed based on the standing ovation given by the public,” Farmer said. “The Rules Committee will do a deeper dive.”

Support is building for the proposal, however. Former Congresswoman and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham tweeted Monday that non-party affiliated voters “should be able to vote in Florida’s primaries in all 67 counties.” Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, also backs the idea.

“As a proud Democrats, Ds will end up with stronger general election candidates and more wins when it matters — in November,” Graham tweeted.

Steve Simeonidis, chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats, wanted the state party to change its rules to allow non-party affiliated registered voters to cast ballots in all Democratic primaries, including the presidential primary scheduled for March 17.

If the resolution would have been approved, Simeonidis said, the first step would have been to inform the Florida secretary of state about the change.

“They would likely not permit it, as it’s counter to Florida statute,” he said. “We would sue, and win based on clear precedent from the United States Supreme Court in Tashjian v. Republican Party.”

In that 1986 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Connecticut Republicans, who alleged a state law mandating only registered party members could participate in primary elections violated the party’s rights as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of Republicans, finding that Connecticut law infringed on those rights.

Cuba said he supports a semi-open primary in Florida because it could enfranchise 3 million voters, which includes hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic voters. But Matthew Isbell, a veteran Democratic consultant, argued allowing non-party affiliated voters to cast ballots in the primary could dilute the black vote, because fewer black voters are NPAs.

“The large majority of these (non-affiliated) voters agree with us on policy, but they have lost hope in our broken political system,” Cuba said. “We shouldn’t punish them for that. We need to meet them where they are.”

Isbell said a red flag in the Miami-Dade party’s proposal was a reference to California’s primary system. California’s “jungle primary” allows the top two candidates with the most votes to face off in the general election, regardless of party.

“This can lead to two folks from the same party advancing, which may sound good in a safe seat, but can also happen in a swing area or statewide depending how many candidates run,” Isbell said.

Isbell added that he would be in favor of allowing non-party affiliated voters to have a say in primary elections but made clear he is against letting members of parties help pick nominees for their opponents.

“This can lead to shenanigans,” he said. “They shouldn’t be referencing California because depending on the context, we are talking a different system. That’s a great way to lead to confusion.”

For Farmer, his opposition came down to the “fundamental” idea that Democrats should nominate their nominee and Republicans should nominate theirs, rather than let outsiders chime in.

“Consider the word primary, it is party-based,” he said. “We have parties for a reason.”

9 Responses to "Democrats Debate Registration, Primary Changes"

  1. Over 26% (more precisely, 26.787%) of Florida voters are not affiliated with a political party (NPA). With some perverse exceptions, they are not permitted to vote in our current primary system. Partisan voters would argue that NPAs should be forced to join one party or the other to vote in a primary. However, if we think of voters as the market, our market is telling us that over one-quarter of the market chooses not affiliate to affiliate with one of our political party. If it is perfectly acceptable to ignore them, we need do nothing; our current primary system is effective in excluding them from our elections. Sure, they may get to choose between the extremes, but may seldom get to vote for some who better presents them. On the other hand, if we believe that they should be included, how do we do that?

    1. As an NPA, I’m pretty much disenfranchised from making much of a statement in Leon County primaries. While I think making Florida an Open Primary state would be worth trying, that process also has it’s shortcomings.
      A colleague in a northern state with Open Primaries, a staunch liberal, voted for Trump in the 2016 primary! Because he thought Clinton would have the best chance of winning in November if Trump was her opponent. Then he voted for Clinton in the general, of course.
      That scheme didn’t work out too well for him.
      Meanwhile, the biggest change Leon County needs to make is to eliminate the At-Large districting. This is nothing but a scheme by the libs to block any chance of getting a conservative into city or county commissions, because there are significantly more D’s registered in the county than R’s.

  2. This is just more proof that the Democrats will Lie, Cheat, Steel and do what ever it takes, to get a Vote. I will bet that when they go out to Register People to Vote, they will NOT turn in any that signed up to be Republican.

  3. I believe that NO Registrations should be excepted during the TWO WEEKS BEFORE an Election. Early Voting should be Cut down to just 3 Days. Only the Handicap, Elderly and Military Over Seas should be the only ones receiving Mail In Ballots. You MUST be a US Citizen to Vote. A Government Issued Photo ID MUST be shown to get your Ballot to Vote. ANYONE caught Violating any Voting Laws should do a Minimum of 1 Year in Prison. If any of this bothers you then, YOU are the one with the problem.

  4. I have long preferred to see a single primary in which all candidates compete. The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes advance to the runoff. The candidate with the highest number of votes in the runoff is elected.

    1. That’s what we do NOW. Everyone runs in the Primary (except the Offices with only 1 or 2 people running) and the two people with the Highest Votes in each category move on to the General Election. The only difference between your idea and what we actually do is, you call your Second Voting Event a “Run Off” instead of a “General Election”.

      1. No, Dave, that’s not what we do. Currently, we have multiple primaries on the same day. Usually, it’s just two: One for Rs and one for Ds; we could have more if other parties had more than one candidate, but I’ve never heard of that happening. The primaries may be held on the same day, but they are different primaries with different ballots; they are partisan primaries. The winner of each party’s primary advances to the runoff (i.e., general election). I prefer to see a single primary where every candidate is listed on the same ballot, regardless of political affiliation (i.e., a non-partisan primary; you may be able to list each candidate’s party preference, but all candidates appear on one ballot). The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the primary advance to the runoff (i.e, the general election).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.