By John Haughey
October 16, 2020
(The Center Square) – With partisanship at fever pitch across the nation in the final leg of a bitter 2020 election cycle, Florida’s Republican and Democratic party leaders are united on one issue: they don’t like Amendment 3.
Florida GOP and Democratic lawmakers came together to petition the Florida Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit filed by Central Florida Urban League President and CEO Glen Gilzean Jr. and backed by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus. The lawsuit seeks to nullify Amendment 3 if adopted.
Amendment 3, one of six proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot, would revise the state’s closed primary system for governor, cabinet and legislative races, adopting a top-two-runoff system.
If approved by more than 60 percent of voters, the open primary system would create a single primary election open to all regardless of party, including Florida’s nearly 4 million unaffiliated voters.
Gilzean’s lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, claims Amendment 3 would “bleach” Florida electoral districts now represented by minority elected officials.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek to remove the proposed amendment from the ballot because many Floridians already have voted, but it asks the court to issue a writ of mandamus instructing elections officials not to certify the amendment if approved.
The Florida Division of Elections reported 1.9 million Floridians already have voted by mail.
Florida is one of nine states with a closed primary. Under Amendment 3, the state’s primaries would resemble those in California, Nebraska and Washington state.
The measure is sponsored by Tallahassee-based All Voters Vote (AVV), which has raised more than $7.2 million, including around $6.8 million from south Florida health care billionaire Mike Fernandez, a former GOP fundraiser who left the party after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
Gilzean’s lawsuit cites two studies published in July after the proposed measure survived a court challenge in March by the state and both political parties and the Supreme Court approved its ballot language in December.
One of the studies was Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell’s analysis that concluded “a flood of white GOP voters in safe Democratic districts will ‘bleach’ seats and seriously erode the voting power of African-Americans” in at least 11 of Florida’s 40 state senate districts. The other was a memo from People Over Profits chairperson Sean Shaw.
Shaw, a former Democratic state lawmaker and 2018 attorney general candidate, said allowing opposing party voters to influence nominations would marginalize minority voters within their own parties.
During Tuesday’s Zoom news conference, House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowles, R-Palm Harbor, and Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, argued if the studies were available in March, the proposed amendment would not have been on the ballot.
“This could do irreparable damage to our political process. This is the political equivalent to a battle royal,” Sprowls said. “Nobody understands who’s going to be left out. Nobody understands the damage that’s going to be done to the process and who’s going to be disenfranchised. Which is why it shouldn’t go into the constitution.”
“If passed this amendment will hurt minority representation and lead to more mudslinging and political chaos,” Cruz said. “Simply put, this amendment is a real threat to true representative democracy.”
The studies are a “sham” based “on flawed and misleading data,” AVA Chairperson Glenn Burhans said in a statement.
“This is a grotesque misuse of the courts for a political stunt; the claims have no merit,” Burhans said.
Burhans said the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld open primaries’ constitutionality and “found the ‘all voters vote’ concept works and works very well for all voters, even if it doesn’t work well for the politicians.”