The Plague of Write-In Candidates on Florida’s Closed Primary System

While we at  the Squeeze released our endorsement list this morning, I wanted to highlight something that we don’t talk about much about write-in candidates.  There are 16 write-in candidates on the ballot in November and in a few cases, they are the only alternative to the incumbent.   Write-in candidates do not appear on the ballot, but must officially register before-hand in order to be counted (relieving Mikey Mouse from serving public duty numerous times around the state).   The way the rules work in Florida is that if there is no opposition, the primary opens up and all registered voters can vote, however, the presence of one small form from a write-in candidate closes the primary.  While no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida, they are often used by both political parties to close contentious primaries – in this cycle there was some fuss over the Kristen Jacobs v. Scott Herman race in District 96.

While the rules are fairly basic, there was the requirement that write-in candidates had to live in the district where they were running.   Because this rule does not exist for party candidates, in July a judge eased the rules for write-in candidates, dropping the requirement for the candidate to live in district.  This seems like a small rule change to make it more fair for outside candidates to get on the ballot, but in reality it disenfranchises many Florida voters.  Currently, a candidate may campaign and maintain a residence outside the district, but once a victory is proclaimed they have to provide an in-district address.  Write-in candidates, on the other hand, were required to live in-district, but were not required to do anything else besides turn in basic paperwork – no financial documents, no other verification of any kind for anything.

But now, after the Judge’s decision, anyone from anywhere in the state can close a primary election, which magnifies a host of existing problems in Florida voting.

First of all, a logical solution is that candidates be required to live in the district, regardless of write-in candidate or not, and should be from the time that they first campaign.  But like most things in Florida, logic has little to do with reality.

Florida has a closed primary system, meaning that only those registered in a party can vote in a primary.  Florida is the only state in the South with a closed primary system, although there are 24 total Republican closed primary states and 19 Democrat closed primary states.   The problem with write-in candidates becomes amplified when considering the gerrymandering problem and the tendency of the legislature to re-determine districts.  Many districts are drawn heavy R or D, so when a primary is closed, so any member of the opposing party has 0 chance of having a say in their representation.  At least in an open primary system, a voter can choose their member of the other party, yet when a write-in candidate closes a primary, many times they are not even given the chance to vote.  And as you can see on the Florida Supervisor of Elections website, many primaries are closed out because of this, eliminating thousands from having an opinion or getting to vote.  Because districts are so slanted one way or the other, many races across the state are decided in the primary and if it becomes closed, many people do not get a choice.

Regardless of political affiliation, a constituent should be able to cast a vote in their own representation – and this is denied to hundreds of thousands every election cycle. Considering that no write-in candidate has won a seat in the legislature, the brutal reality is that most of the time write in candidates are used as a political tool.   There are many solutions to make the system more fair – open primaries, easier ballot access, more third party access, ect.  Yet this system creates far more problems than it solves.

A democracy depends on participation and while in general, ballot access is a good thing, the ability for anyone to write-in on a race from anywhere in the state is problematic.    While the system was unfair before, it will be interesting to see if it gets worse.

5 comments

  1. Florida Independent Voting is pursuing a Top Two Open Primary where all candidates for office must compete in the primary and finish in the top two to be placed on the general election ballot. Our proposed amendment does away with the general election write-in candidate.

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  2. J. Scott Gaillard · ·

    This is the situation I am in, so I won’t get to vote on the next State Representative from this area, (House District 15) Granted they both stink, but I would like to have a say on which one is the worst.

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    1. Scott, you are right. Given the constitution as written today, write in candidates are perfectly legal and have encouraged game playing in the past. Our movement is focused on changing the constitution to give everyone a shot at candidates in primary elections. We believe, over time, that having all candidates facing the entire electorate will modify their behavior. It will take time. Consider supporting our ballot initiative for 2016

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  3. As a registered independent voter in Broward County, I am appalled by the manipulation of our politicians. These loopholes in the system virtually let some of our politicians use the election rules or loopholes to their advantage.

    Nan Rich is no stranger to politics she is well aware that Republicans and Independents cannot vote in a closed Party race, the Rich crew maneuvered to supply a write-in candidate to make that happen, Jason Thomas, a write in candidate for Broward County Commissioner in District 1 filed to run in the 25th hour. Jason Thomas has raised no money, is not campaigning and does not even live in the District that he is “running” for. On another note, Judith Stern, who was the Notary on Thomas’ filing document is a long time staunch Democrat.

    By doing this, Nan Rich shut out almost 50% of the voters in Broward County who would have been able to vote in the election for County Commissioner in District 1. This is a huge block of non-Democrats affected by the Write-In trick to disenfranchise voters. In Broward County there’s about 500,000 voters who are not registered Democrats according to the Supervisor of Elections. They make up 49.4 percent of the electorate in Broward, and it only took one person in District 1 named Jason Thomas to cancel out their votes. I understand that nothing was done illegally, but in my mind – ethics say a lot about one politician closing out the race to her constituents who she is hoping to be representing. This is why Broward County needs to look at a future without the “Establishment Politicians” like Nan Rich, who just use the system for their own benefit rather than for the benefit of the people.

    Wake Up Broward County. Vote for your future unstressed of supporting the past.

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