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Sunday, Sep 21, 2014

Editorial: Stop the write-in fraud


The statewide election turnout in the Tuesday primary was a woeful 17.6 percent, with only 2.07 million Floridians casting ballots while 9.7 million registered voters didn’t bother.

One quick way the state could generate more interest in elections is to eliminate the write-in loophole that disenfranchises voters to enhance party politics.

Lawmakers should put an end to the sham, which undermines the intent of a constitutional amendment Floridians adopted in 1998 by a 2-1 margin.

That worthy measure states that if a primary race between candidates of the same party will determine the winner of the office, all registered voters should be able to cast ballots.

The aim was to ensure all voters could participate, regardless of whether a party failed to field a candidate, as frequently occurs in districts dominated by one party.

But the amendment did not address write-ins. They can close a primary and force a general election by simply signing some forms at the local elections office. They do not have to pay a qualifying fee or collect enough signatures to qualify for election.

Their names do not appear on the general election ballot. Voters must know the write-in’s name and write it on the ballot. Only the names of write-ins who have registered with the elections office are counted.

These are not legitimate candidates. Yet they routinely shut voters out of the process. The ruse is used to benefit both parties.

On Tuesday, a write-in candidate kept Democrats and independents from voting in the District 4 Hillsborough County Commission Republican primary in East Hillsborough. A write-in prevented Republicans and independents from voting in the District 61 state House Democratic primary race in East Tampa.

And questions about whether a write-in candidate in the Republican District 64 House primary was a Hillsborough resident has resulted in litigation — and confusion over whether there will be an open primary in November or a separate Republican primary.

The situation is ludicrous.

Making this abuse more acute is the fact that Florida voters with no party affiliation (NPA) are growing far faster than Democrats or Republicans.

Florida voters not registered with either major party now number more than 3 million — about 25 percent. Yet the write-in fraud too often keeps NPA voters from voting.

The open-primary loophole could be easily remedied. Simply have write-ins run in the open primary. This would prevent nuisance candidates, usually at the behest of one party or another, from signing up solely to keep members of the opposing party and independents from voting.

More complicated would be finding an equitable way to enable NPA voters to participate in regular primaries, where both parties field candidates, something that also merits attention. But that’s a matter that will require study and debate.

The write-in loophole is different. Lawmakers should have no trouble recognizing the injustice of a system that allows phony candidates and party operatives to rob citizens of their right to vote.

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