Of all the wide-ranging suggestions the Constitution Revision Commission has received, there are two dealing with Florida’s election laws that we hope the panel will put on the 2018 ballot for a statewide referendum. Actually, the Legislature should have taken care of these things the old-fashioned way long ago. But since the elected politicians won’t, we hope the CRC will act to close the “write-in loophole” and bring about open primaries next year. First, that write-in gimmick. The last time the state constitution was overhauled, 20 years ago, commissioners decided that when only Republicans or only Democrats run for an office, everybody should be allowed to vote in the primary in that race. But then the Division of Elections issued a legal opinion decreeing that write-in candidates are real contenders for a public office. Legally, on paper, perhaps they are — but as a matter of practical politics, they’re not. Meaning no disrespect to sincere, well-intended people who can’t afford the qualifying fee, so they offer themselves as write-in candidates, they have no chance of winning. Not one state legislator ran as a write-in, nor has anyone won that way in modern times.
What the write-in provision does do, however, is to work an election fraud more valuable than gold for a candidate, particularly an incumbent officeholder. Here’s how it works: Let’s say two Republicans are running against each other in a district where Democrats don’t even bother running a candidate. Normally, Democrats, independents and minor party members would be able to vote in the GOP primary, because the winner of that contest is going to be the officeholder.
But then someone files as a write-in candidate. That person does not have to do anything else, just file a statement of intent. Write-ins don’t have to campaign, raise money, make speeches or appear in debates. They can leave town, for all it matters.
Their status, however, closes the primary and, in the hypothetical we’ve created, only Republicans can vote in the primary. That invites bogus write-in candidates to file. Sometimes, a lobbyist or close friend of a candidate — even a family member — will offer as a write-in, just to keep non-party members from voting in the primary. This effectively disenfranchises all other voters in the district.