JACKSONVILLE — A Florida state senator is looking to end an era of
Democratic dominance in several state elections.
Sen. Audrey Gibson has filed a bill, SB 366, that would change the
rules to make any future elections for state attorney and public
Under Florida election law, elected officials typically are nominated in closed
primaries, and only registered members of each party can
participate. However, this rule can be overcome
in cases in which a party is not able to field any candidates.
these cases, the one remaining primary then becomes open, allowing any registered voter to participate. Despite this
exception, open primaries almost never happen in Florida because there
is a long-standing and often-exploited loophole in which one party
will simply introduce a write-in candidate to participate when no one
else is available. This automatically prevents an open primary from
occurring, T. Wayne Bailey, a political science professor at Stetson
University, told the Florida Record.
Because the winners
of most local elections in the state are determined in the
primary and not in the general election, it means that certain segments
of the population are disenfranchised from having a say in
their local government, Bailey said.
this reason, Gibson along with Sens. Gary Farmer and Bobby Powell have introduced SB 366. The bill was inspired by a pair
of bitter Jacksonville elections for state attorney and public
defender that were decided entirely by the results of the
Republican primary, according to a report on BrowardBeat.com.
Given that roughly 96 percent of African Americans
in area are not registered as Republicans, almost none of the local African American population could
participate in the determining either position, according to BrowardBeat.com.
said this has led to a political environment that typically is supported by the party that is in power and contested by
the party in opposition.
"What is unusual here is that Gibson's
bill would makes things more difficult for her own party, the
Democrats," Bailey said. "But in either case, the current
system leaves many voters disenfranchised."
While neither political party is likely to support a measure that
makes it harder for them to win elections in areas it has historically dominated, the concept of closed primaries is likely on
the decline in the state of Florida.
"Almost a third of the
state is registered as no party affiliation and that number is
growing," Bailey said. "And that leaves a very large
portion of the state disenfranchised."
said that even though he has historically supported strong political
parties as a way of accomplishing goals in American politics, he
thinks this trend likely means the era of the closed primary is
coming to an end.
"I'm very strongly party-orientated as a person, but I do see the writing on the wall," Bailey said. "And I think a reform-focused candidate will come
along and do away with closed primary."
this, Bailey is not optimistic about SB 336's
"It is a bill introduced by three Democratic senators in
a largely Republican legislature," Bailey said. "The party
leadership will not look kindly on this measure, and it is very likely
going to fail."