Smart politics or dumb decision? An opinion

FOpinions_ SmallerSubmitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 17, 2014 4:30 p.m.

PRIMARY-ELECTION-2014-logo-copy-jpgThe sample ballots for the August 26 primary election are now available on the Supervisor of Elections website www.votenassau.com.  The only contested county elections involve Nassau County Commission races for Districts 2 and 4.  If you are a registered Republican, you will be able to vote in each race.  But if you are a registered Democrat or independent, you will only be able to vote in the District 4 race.  Seems a bit strange that folks who live in District 2 but who are not Republicans will have no say in that race, which pits incumbent Steve Kelley against challenger and former county commissioner Mike Boyle.  District 2 is right here on Amelia Island and just across the bridge in what some call O’Neal and others call Greater Amelia Island.  Every voter, regardless of party affiliation,  can vote for incumbent Barry Holloway or challenger George Spicer in the District 4 race.   District 4 lies in the western part of the county and includes Bryceville and Hilliard.

How can that be?  Is it legal?  Is it fair?

Based upon a recommendation of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission and approved by statewide voter referendum, universal primaries were adopted and made part of the Florida Constitution in 1998.  (See link:  http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?Mode=Constitution&Submenu=3&Tab=statutes&CFID=70921850&CFTOKEN=52894099#A6.)

According to the Supervisor of Elections website,

Florida is a closed primary election state.  A voter must be registered with the same party affiliation of the candidate(s) they wish to vote for in the primary. … The following exceptions allow voters to vote in a primary election whether they are affiliated with a party or not:

  • Universal Primary Contest:  All eligible voters can vote for any candidate in a race where every candidate for that office has the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary election will have no opposition in the general election
  • Nonpartisan Offices:  All eligible voters, including those with no party affiliation can vote in non-partisan (not based on party affiliation) judicial, school board and special district offices on a primary election ballot.

There is no Democrat running in either the District 2 or District 4 race.  But late in the game, an individual filed as a write-in candidate for the District 2 race.  His filing has made the District 2 race a closed primary.  Did Boyle or Kelley recruit a write-in candidate to limit the pool of qualified voters in the District 2 race?  Their supporters say no.  Since no write-in candidate filed in the District 4 race, every registered voter, regardless of affiliation, may vote in that race which is now a Universal Primary Contest.

Write-In candidates are not required to submit petitions or a pay a qualifying fee. A write-in candidate is not entitled to have his or her name printed on any ballot. But a space appears on the general election ballot to write in the name of a candidate who has qualified as a write-in candidate.  There is no information available about Mr. Eugene Edward Alley, the write-in candidate, on the Supervisor’s website; he lists no money in an account, no contributions and no expenditures.  But by filing to run as a write-in he has in effect blocked 46 percent of the registered voters in Nassau County from voting in the District 2 primary.

Mr. Alley has done nothing illegal and nothing that has not been done by other Florida politicians to narrow the pool of eligible voters to those of their own party.  While the intent of the law was to expand the pool of eligible voters when various districts seem to have one-party domination, the write-in loophole would seem to work against that intention.

Any student of elections understands that it is next to impossible to mount a successful write-in campaign.  Campaigns need money, and money pretty much flows to those who are active in political parties.  So why would anyone file to run as a write-in candidate?  I can think of a couple of reasons.  First of all, some people do not support the universal primary and believe that only people of the candidates’ party should be allowed to vote.  So filing as a write-in is more a matter of ideology than politics for such folks.  Others truly believe that they can win as a write-in candidate.  But there is another possibility that is not quite so idealistic.  Because of liberal open records laws, anyone can obtain information on voting statistics from previous elections.  Please note that I am talking about statistics at a macro level, because no one can access individual voting records.

Those statistics might reveal that in a past general election, votes cast by those not registered in the same political party as a Candidate A went to that candidate’s opponent, Candidate B.  So if I were a supporter of Candidate A, I might think it a good tactic to block those more likely to support Candidate B than me, from the election.  I could file to run as a write-in, never campaign for an office I don’t even want, and then after the primary, withdraw from the election.  This simple action in effect would block more than 14,000 Democrats and almost 11,000 independents from voting in in Nassau County in what has now become a Republican primary for District 2 but what in fact should have been a universal primary.

Is this fair?  I guess, as an old friend used to say, where you stand depends on where you sit.  But take heart.  If you are determined to vote in the District 2 primary, an important race in Nassau County, you have an option, but perhaps an option with a catch.  You can change your registration to Republican just for this primary election, but that means that if you were a registered Democrat, you will not be eligible to vote in the Democrat gubernatorial primary.  Of course, after you vote in the primary, you can revert to your preferred affiliation for the general election in November.  That’s also legal.  And it seems about as fair as the write-in loophole.

If you are not a Republican but are determined to vote in this local election knowing that you will not be able to vote in the statewide Democrat primary for governor, hustle on over to the Supervisor of Elections website www.votenassau.com to determine the best way to get your registration changed by the July 28 deadline.  Of course, if you are a Republican more interested in voting in the Democratic primary for governor than the local races, you can change your registration, too.  But if you don’t act by July 28, 2014, it’s all academic.

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