Constitution commission member supports closing “write-in loophole”

Lee Herald Favicon 16A change to the way primaries in Florida work could be on the ballot in 2018.

As the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission meets and discusses various proposals, one member of the commission has said she supports changing when a primary election is open or closed.

Currently, primary elections in partisan races are closed to all but members of the registered political party the candidates are competing in, unless there would be no opponents in the general election for the winner to face, then all voters are eligible. But all it takes is a single write-in candidate to declare for a race to close it to party members only.

We have heard many Floridians talking about the need to close the write-in loophole. Addressing this issue is common sense and will help restore voters’ faith in our elections process,” CRC member Sherry Plymale wrote in an opinion piece for TCPalm. Plymale, a Republican, is supporting a proposal brought forward by Democratic State Senator Dave Aronberg(D-Palm Beach).

“Even though Aronberg is a Democrat and I’m a Republican, we both agree the write-in loophole has been allowed to exist for too long,” Plymale wrote. “Closing the loophole is the right thing to do for Florida voters.”

If passed, voters of all political affiliations would be able to vote in primary elections if the only other competition for candidates are write-in opponents.

The so-called write-in loophole was a point of contention in several Southwest Florida races during the 2016 elections. In Florida, Plymale notes, a write-in candidate does not need to pay any filing fees, or collect petition signatures for ballot access. Nearly every state legislative race in the area was contested by Republicans and token write-in candidates.

Of the three Florida Senate seats that cover Southwest Florida, one was completely unopposed, while the other two were contested by two Republicans and a write-in candidate. Neither write-in raised any funds, according to state campaign finance reports.

Kathleen Passidomo(R-Naples), defeated former state rep Matt Hudson for Senate District 28 in the Republican primary. On the campaign trail, she said she supported closing the loophole.

“I do believe the write-in provisions need to be changed. There’s no transparency to it,” Passidomo said in a 2016 candidate forum. “I think the law needs to be looked at. I talked to a lot of my colleagues about it, and lot of them are uncomfortable with a write-in closing the primary, I would support finding a better way.”

The Florida House races were little better. Two races, House District 105, which stretches from Golden Gate to the east coast, and House District 79, which covers eastern Lee County, attracted a Democratic challenger. Districts 80 and 106 in Naples were closed by a single write-in. Again, neither raised any funds.

13 House races and five Senate races would have been changes from closed to open primaries in 2016 under the proposal.

Plymale’s proposed amendment must be approved by 22 members of the current commission in the spring in order to make it onto the 2018 ballot. Constitutional amendments require 60 percent of the vote to become law.

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