July 02–Richard Hal Sturm and Josh Santos are running for the Florida Senate in Broward and Palm Beach counties, but this is likely the last you’ll hear of them. They are write-in candidates, so their names won’t appear on the November ballot. All they’re certain to accomplish is to prevent some 363,000 people from voting for their next state senator.
In fact, they’ve already done that.
With no one but Democrats running in these two races, both primaries should have been open to all voters. The Florida Constitution says so. But there’s a loophole. When Sturm filed as a write-in in Broward’s Senate District 34 and Santos did the same in Palm Beach’s District 30, they automatically closed these primary races to all but registered Democratic voters. And again, because no Republican is running in November, whoever wins the primary will be the next senator.
It isn’t supposed to be this way. A state constitutional amendment approved by 64 percent of Florida voters 20 years ago says a primary is open to all voters “if all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election.”
But the Division of Elections sabotaged the voters’ intent with an opinion, upheld by the courts, that a write-in candidate constitutes opposition in the general election.
In modern memory, no Florida write-in candidacy has amounted to anything. Two years ago, none even reached half a percentage point.
Most are set-up by party officials or candidates who mean to keep their primaries closed — not simply to save money, but to avoid complicating their races with voters whose politics are markedly different. Still, with neither party commanding a statewide majority in registrations, the consequence of closing a primary is to disenfranchise more than half the voters in affected districts.
We reached out to Sturm and Santos to ask why they are running and what they hope to accomplish. Three recorded telephone messages to the number Santos listed on his filing papers remain unanswered. So do questions we posed by text and e-mail to Sturm
Sturm and Santos are two of five write-in candidates — the other three are in House races — who have closed primaries this year. The others are a Republican primary in House District 56 in DeSoto, Hardee and Polk Counties, and Democratic primaries in Hillsborough County’s House Districts 61 and 62.
That’s an improvement of sorts over 2016, when five Senate primaries — out of 40 races that year — and eight House primaries were closed to all but one major party’s voters, despite the lack of credible opponents in November.
Overall competition is also slightly better this year, with 76 of 120 House races slated for two-party rivalry on the November ballot, compared to only 55 two years ago. Still, there are 31 entirely unopposed House candidates, all but two of them incumbents, and 13 seats that will be decided in party primaries, three of which will be closed by write-ins. As for the Senate, only two incumbents are unopposed, and only three others lack two-party competition in the fall.
Sturm’s candidacy closes the Democratic primary to nearly 170,000 Broward voters who are Republicans, Libertarians and other minor party members, or voters who claim no party affiliation. In Palm Beach, some 193,000 are affected.
Sen. Bobby Powell Jr., the Democratic incumbent in District 30, has reported $133,000 in his campaign account and seems to face only token opposition from the only other ballot candidate, Rubin Anderson, a political newcomer. Santos, the write-in, has no apparent political history in Florida.
Neither does Sturm, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. But Sen. Gary Farmer Jr., the Democratic incumbent in District 34, may face a more serious challenge from former Rep. Jim Waldman of Pompano Beach, who ran third in a three-way Democratic primary that Farmer won two years ago. Waldman has reported a net worth of $4.1 million, mostly in real property and business assets, almost the same as Farmer’s $4 million. Sturm’s financial disclosure, with a net worth of $305,000, doesn’t put him in that league.
This was the year that the new Constitution Revision Commission, convened every 20 years, was supposed to close the write-in loophole that its predecessor never intended. As it held hearings around the state, supervisors of election emphatically called for change. Closed primaries, they often said, accounted for more complaints from voters than anything else.
But the fix died on a 19-17 vote, three votes short of the 60 percent supermajority required by the commission’s rules to put an amendment on the ballot. Fifteen of the “no” votes were cast by people whom Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran had appointed. The vote almost surely reflected pressure from them.
Given that neither party’s hierarchy seems to care for a bigger tent on Election Day, it would be vain to ask the Legislature to make up for the revision commission’s failure.
But 20 years Is a long time to wait for the next revision commission. It may not be the kind of issue to draw monetary contributions in the amount necessary to put a voter initiative on the ballot, but someone ought to try.
Democracy dies not only in darkness, as the Washington Post’s motto says, but also from disuse.
This article provided by NewsEdge.