STATEWIDE — During this November's general election, Florida voters could change future primaries in the state.
Proposed state constitutional Amendment 3, on the ballot in the November 3 general election, asks whether voters want to change Florida’s state primary elections to a system that would allow millions more people to vote.
What You Need To Know
- Amendment 3 to be voted on in November election
- Proponents say Amendment 3 opens up primaries to more voters
- Opponents say it could curb minority representation
- COMPLETE COVERAGE: Making Sense of the Florida Constitutional Amendments | Florida Voting Guide
Amendment 3 proposes shifting state primaries to what’s called a “top-two,” or “jungle primary,” system. In such a system, voters can choose from all the candidates running for an individual office, and the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary would advance to the general election.
So, in the general election, voters could end up choosing between two Democrats, two Republicans, two independents, or any combination in the general election.
“This amendment really is a big deal. It would change the way we have elections in Florida,” according to Dr. Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at UCF.
“So this really and fundamentally changes things because right now we’re a closed primary state, and you have to be registered with a party to participate. Whereas in this new system, in the top-two system, everybody will get to decide who advances on to the general election.”
Voting "‘yes" on Amendment 3 would open up primary elections beyond registered Democrats and Republicans, too. The new system would allow nearly 4 million “No Party Affiliation” (NPA) voters — more than one-fourth of the registered voters in Florida — the chance to weigh in on state primaries.
“So it’s really about determining the true will of the people, and when I say, ‘the people,’ all registered voters in Florida, and not just leaving it to the small sliver of the ideological wing of either major party,” Glenn Burhans, chairman of All Voters Vote, the group working to pass Amendment 3, said.
“It’s really making our state be more like Florida, to be truly more reflective of our state’s voters. And when you exclude nearly a third of all legally registered and qualified voters from the process, then you’re not getting the true picture of Florida voters."
The amendment has its detractors — and they are growing.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties of Florida are fighting the switch. The League of Women Voters of Florida also recently changed its stance to oppose Amendment 3 after reviewing its impacts.
“The League definitely supports open primaries. But we do not feel that the top-two primary is the best way to go,” according to Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
While the league would support a change to the primary system that would allow millions of NPA voters to weigh in, this top-two method could curb minority representation, Brigham said.
“We definitely see that concern. But we firmly believe that the top-two would very likely disenfranchise representation in communities of color,” Brigham said. “So after taking a look at the current drawing of Florida’s Senate and statehouse districts, it’s become clear that we cannot support a change to our state constitution that would likely further silence minority communities or candidates within these districts."
Burhans disagrees, saying he thinks it could have the opposite effect.
“I think it’s a misstatement to say that this will negatively impact racial minority voting groups,” Burhans said. “As a matter of fact, in California, the Black legislative caucus grew by 50 percent after the adoption of top-two, and the Latino caucus grew by 25 percent. So we think ultimately that this will help enfranchise and empower all voters.”
If approved, federal races would continue to use the closed primary system, while the top-two primary method would let all of Florida’s 13 million voters decide state primary results.
“It’s really a fundamental shift, different than what we do now,” Jewett said.
Amendment 3 has largely been funded by Miami health care investor Mike Fernandez, a former Republican who was the finance chairman for Rick Scott’s run for governor in 2014. Fernandez left the GOP, however, after Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
Amendment 3 would need 60 percent of support from voters in November for it to pass.
Currently, only Washington and California use the top-two primary system.
Information from reporter Mitch Perry contributed to this report.