TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA –
If Florida is going to change its closed primary system, which can block voters
from the other party from casting ballots, it will probably have to be
addressed in the Legislature, according to an attorney.
Daniel Nordby, a
partner in Shutts & Bowen LLP, said
the Florida Supreme Court’s recent decision to dismiss a challenge of the
state’s closed primary system, follows past decisions and the Florida Constitution.
“That case really is
the logical consequence of what the supreme court decided a couple of years
ago,” he told the Florida Record. “I think it’s a correct application of what the constitution
The court has
continued to uphold the closed primary system because it does not want to judge
the merits of write-in candidates, Nordby said.
“The court didn’t
want to get into a case-by-case judgment,” he said. “The supreme court said it
wasn’t going to case-by-case judge the validity … of a write-in candidate,”
In this most recent
case, three Republican candidates were vying to be state attorney of the Fourth Judicial Circuit. They were Angela Corey, Melissa Nelson and Wes White. When a
write-in candidate, Kenneth Leigh, joined the race, it closed the Aug. 30 primary
to only Republican voters.
If the four had
remained in the race, the November ballot would have only reflected the winner
of the Republican primary. Democrats and Independents would not be able to
“Florida for a very
long time has had a closed primary system,” Nordby said. “Each party puts
forward its own candidate. If there’s more than one, we have a primary. If
members of a political party aren’t happy with a choice they are given, they
should put another candidate on the ballot.”
If changes are going
to be made to Florida’s closed primary system, they will have to be done in the
state Legislature, Nordby said.
“I think it’s likely
that this issue isn’t going to be litigated much in the years going forward,”
In a June 17 opinion
to dismiss, Richard Townsend, senior circuit court judge, noted that in 1998,
Florida voters amended Article VI, section 5 of the Florida Constitution to
state that if all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the
winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified electors,
regardless of party affiliation, may vote in the primary elections for that
This amendment is
known as the Universal Primary Amendment. In 2000, the Florida secretary of
state issued an opinion stating that a write-in candidate constitutes
opposition in the general election. Therefore, if there is a write-in
candidate, a general election primary will remain closed.
The plaintiffs in
this most recent case had alleged the Leigh’s candidacy was a “sham” and that
his purpose in qualifying as a write-in candidate was not to be elected state
attorney, but was solely for the purpose of closing the Republican Party
primary to assist Corey. Also, there are 319,004 registered Republican voters
in the Fourth Judicial Circuit and 438,894 registered voters who are not
Brinkmann, 184 So. 3d at 511-15, “The court will not consult a crystal ball to
determine when and whether a given write-in candidate constitutes real or
In the Florida state
attorney race, Corey lost the Aug. 30 primary. Write-in candidate Leigh said he
will not continue his bid. Nelson is the state attorney-elect.