Florida Supreme Court hears pros and cons of ‘jun­gle’ pri­mary

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jim Saun­ders

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — It’s known as a “jun­gle” pri­mary, and the Florida Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties want no part of it.

Now, the Florida Supreme Court will de­cide whether a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that would over­haul the state’s pri­mary-elec­tion sys­tem will go be­fore vot­ers in Novem­ber 2020.

Jus­tices heard ar­gu­ments Tues­day about the pro­posed amend­ment, which would al­low reg­is­tered vot­ers to cast bal­lots in pri­mary elec­tions re­gard­less of party af­fil­i­a­tion.

The two can­di­dates get­ting the most votes in each pri­mary would advance to the gen­eral elec­tion.

Mov­ing to such pri­maries would be a ma­jor change from Florida’s long­stand­ing closed pri­mary sys­tem, which gen­er­ally lim­its pri­maries to vot­ers reg­is­tered with par­ties.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ashley Moody’s of­fice and the state Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic par­ties are try­ing to keep the mea­sure from reach­ing the bal­lot, ar­gu­ing at the Supreme Court that the pro­posed amend­ment would be mis­lead­ing to vot­ers.

The court plays a crit­i­cal role in de­ter­min­ing whether pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments reach the bal­lot. It is not sup­posed to weigh the mer­its of ini­tia­tives but looks at bal­lot ti­tles and sum­maries to de­ter­mine if the word­ing meets le­gal tests, such as not be­ing mis­lead­ing.

All Vot­ers Vote, a po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tee try­ing to get the mea­sure on the bal­lot, has sub­mit­ted enough pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures to the state to get its mea­sure on the bal­lot, mak­ing the Supreme Court re­view a piv­otal fi­nal step. It is un­clear when jus­tices will make a de­ci­sion on the pro­posal, which would ap­ply to elec­tions for the Leg­is­la­ture, gov­er­nor and state Cab­i­net.

In ques­tion­ing at­tor­neys Tues­day, Chief Jus­tice Charles Canady and Jus­tice Alan Law­son ap­peared skep­ti­cal of the no­tion that vot­ers wouldn’t un­der­stand the bal­lot pro­posal.

“One of the things I am strug­gling with is if you have a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of how we do things in Florida, and if you ac­tu­ally vote, you do,” Law­son said. “And you read the (bal­lot) sum­mary and give it a few sec­onds of thought, you’re go­ing to re­al­ize the im­pli­ca­tions of it, it seems to me. And I’m just strug­gling as to why that’s not true.”

Jus­tice Car­los Mu­niz, how­ever, delved into part of the pro­posed bal­lot lan­guage that says, “All can­di­dates for an of­fice, in­clud­ing party nominated can­di­dates, ap­pear on the same pri­mary bal­lot.” The im­pli­ca­tion is that par­ties would be able to nom­i­nate can­di­dates in some way be­fore the pri­maries, and Mu­niz fo­cused on whether that would be ad­e­quately ex­plained to vot­ers.

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