Decision 2020

Amendment 3 Would Create Top-Two Open Primaries in Florida

Floridians could vote to weaken the two-party system in the state this November.

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The two-party system in Florida will be on the ballot this November and voters will decide whether to weaken it or to keep it the same. 

Amendment 3 would create “top-two” open primaries in August elections, which would form one primary where all voters would vote. The top two candidates would then go on to the November election. 

Right now, Florida has closed primaries, meaning registered Democrats pick their favorite candidate in the Democratic Primary, registered Republicans pick their favorite candidate in the Republican Primary, and then the two face off in November. 

The change would allow all voters, including minor party voters and No Party Affiliated voters, to vote on one list of candidates. 

Both political parties oppose Amendment 3. 

The change would include the races for governor, Florida cabinet and state legislative races. It would not change races for Congress and U.S. Senate. 

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP and their allies worry the change would be a hit to diversity. 

“If the goal is to encourage the electorate to participate in civic engagement by exercising their right to vote, you want big decisions being made when more people show up,” said Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-Miami.

Joseph told NBC 6 the change would add more importance to the August primary -- when voters are fewer and less diverse. The process could lead to two candidates from the same party being the only choices in November. 

Joseph specifically pointed to 2018, when if the top-two open primary was in place, the choices for governor would’ve been then-Rep. Ron DeSantis and then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, both white male Republicans. 

If it’s a crowded field on one ballot, the ones closer to power and money will prevail. 

"Because the other vote was so split but it’s a larger share of the voting population, those folks get knocked out because they’re not part of the top two,” Joseph said.

Glenn Burhans, chair of All Voters Vote, supports the change. In response to the diversity concerns, Burins says 3.8 million independent voters don’t get to weigh in until November when it’s one Republican vs. one Democrat. 1.6 million of those voters are voters of color. 

“Let’s face it. Closed primaries are a form of voter suppression. It’s a way of saying you can’t participate, your vote doesn’t count unless you join this group,” Burhans said.

Burins hopes the change will get politicians out of their silos, encourage compromise, and force elected officials to talk to voters who don’t agree  with them. 

“They shut out millions of people from the process and they create echo chambers within these safely drawn legislative districts of either the far left or the far right,” Burhans said.

California, Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana have similar systems. In Louisiana, if someone gets more than 50% of the vote, they will win outright. 

Robert Hogan, professor at Louisiana State University, tells NBC 6 Louisiana voters really like the system.

“People in Louisiana really like the system because they get a choice. What that means is that you have a bit of a lag in party registration. Your party registration doesn’t matter that much,” Hogan said.

Hogan told NBC 6 in some cases it could diminish voting strength of people of color, but it would depend on the specific dynamics of the race. In general, he says Louisiana is pretty diverse, and so is the legislature. 

But will this be a silver bullet to make candidates less extreme? Not so much, Hogan said.

“Academic research that looks at this very issue makes it pretty clear that the type of primary system the state adopts does not have a big influence. There are lots of other drivers that influence why state’s get polarized,” Hogan said.

He points to big money in politics and how legislatures draw districts so one party is guaranteed to win as major factors of polarization as well.

Supporters of Amendment 3 say it won’t be the end all of extreme polarization, but it would be a step in the right direction. 

The Amendment needs 60% of the vote to become reality beginning in 2024. 

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