In 1960, when Richard Nixon carried Florida’s 10 electoral votes, an unknown Republican gubernatorial candidate named George Petersen won just over 40 percent of the vote against Democrat Farris Bryant. Democrats who controlled the state legislature were worried that holding their gubernatorial elections in presidential years, when more Republican voters showed up at the polls, threatened their solid grip on state politics. So a group of rural segregationist Democrats called a special statewide election to change the year in which Florida elected its governors. Voters approved the change, shifting gubernatorial elections to midterm years, rather than presidential years. Fast forward half a century, and the political calculus has changed: Now it’s Democratic voters who are more likely to turn up in a presidential year. Democrats have won Florida’s electoral votes in three of the last six presidential elections, but they find themselves in the midst of an historic gubernatorial losing streak.
Republicans have won five straight elections; Lawton Chiles was the last Democrat to win the governorship, in 1994. Now, Democrats want to return to the old system. Party strategists are planning to collect signatures for a ballot initiative in 2016 that would shift governor’s races back to presidential election years.
“Our state leaders should be elected by the greatest number of people,” Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist involved in the effort told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, which first reported the campaign. “How can you argue that having fewer people participate in the political process is good for the state?”