A judge in Tallahassee disqualified a write-in candidate in the Florida House District 64 race Thursday because the write-in didn’t live in the district. As a result, what was a closed primary election between two Republicans scheduled for Aug. 26 now will be open to all voters in November — as it should be. District 64, which runs from Safety Harbor in Pinellas County to Carrollwood in Hillsborough, is set up to lean Republican, so much so that Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate to challenge incumbent Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa. Grant did manage to draw a Republican challenger, however, in Miriam Steinberg, a Tampa engineer. Still, at that time all voters in the district were eligible to vote in the primary. Florida mandates an open primary if members of only one party are on the ballot and there are no other candidates running in the general election because the winner of the primary automatically wins the general election.
Not long after Steinberg announced her candidacy, a guy named Daniel John Matthews became a write-in candidate. This closed the primary to Republicans only, which in turn denies non-Republicans living in the district the right to choose who will represent them in Tallahassee for the next two years. This amounts to voter disenfranchisement through an electoral loophole that makes no sense.
When the subject of voter disenfranchisement is in the news, it’s usually related to things like strict voter ID enforcement, denial of voting rights to felons, limiting early voting hours and purging voter lists. But in 2012, more than 900,000 Floridians were denied their right to vote in 15 state House and Senate races because of write-in candidates.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates for political office, but never a write-in. I’ve also been on panels at candidate debates and forums, but no write-in ever showed up. And none of them has ever won an election. So it’s amazing how these people whose names won’t appear on a ballot, who don’t campaign, who are not required to pay a filing fee or gather signatures can affect election outcomes.