A proposal to amend our primary system was submitted by Commissioner Bill Schifino of the Florida Constitutional Commission (CRC). Schifino’s open primary proposal is now one of six being considered by the full Commission, out of more than 2000 original proposals.
Florida needs this political reform. In 2016, independent voters who wanted to vote in the presidential primaries were presented with two bad options: register with a political party they refused to join or stay home. The Schifino proposal will allow 3.4 million independent voters — 26 percent of all voters in Florida — to cast their ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections without being forced to join a party.
All the CRC has to do is put the measure before the voters for approval. I hope they listen to the people and do just that.
I’m a passionate advocate on many policy issues, and sometimes people ask me why I devote time and energy advocating for opening our primary system. For me, being a progressive means advocating for a system that is fair to all voters, including people who disagree with me. That’s the kind of leadership that is so lacking in Congress today. Closed primaries are part of a political culture that allows party insiders to thrive at the expense of the people.
In a poll co-conducted by my organization Progress for All, Florida Fair and Open Primaries and Open Primaries, 73 percent of Floridians-including majorities of Republicans and Democrats as well as independents- supported putting an open primaries measure before the voters in November 2018.
Demographics in our state and in our country are changing rapidly. Independents are the fastest growing segment of voters in Florida, and some surveys suggest more than 70 percent of millennials are independents. We risk losing an entire generation of voters if we don’t embrace them. Democrats can’t win elections without independent voters. Right now we’re saying to them, “You’re not wanted in the primary process, but join us in the general election.” We simply can’t have it both ways.
I was disappointed in the recent decision of the Unity Reform Commission, a body created by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the 2016 National Convention, to not recommend that the Democratic Party enact a 50-state open primaries rule for the 2020 presidential contest. Regardless of state election law, both political parties could, if they wanted, write rules to give every voter in every state the right to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential primaries. It was a missed opportunity for Democrats to open our doors to independents.
Effective political change requires more than replacing individual politicians. Our political system itself is reinforcing partisanship at ever-increasing rates. If we want to transform politics, we have to elect better leaders and change how they get elected.
Which brings me back to the Constitution Revision Commission and their opportunity to now do right by the people of Florida.
The Commission held nine public hearings in early 2017, from Miami to the Florida Panhandle, to hear firsthand what issues are most important to citizens. Thousands of Floridians spoke out at the hearings, signed petitions, sent emails and made calls to CRC members to support an open primaries referendum. Inspired by this demand, Commissioner Bill Schifino introduced his proposal.
Now as the Commission moves proposals forward — including a vote on the open primaries proposal — we need to make our voices heard as we did so strongly last year. The CRC will be holding a second set of public hearings starting Feb. 12. I hope everyone will join me in attending one or more of these hearing and urge the CRC to adopt Commissioner Schifino’s recommendation and put an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot for the voters to approve.
The message is simple: Let the voters decide. That’s a progressive value that all Floridians can get behind.
Tim Canova is the Chair of Progress for All, a grassroots political and community action group based in Hollywood, Florida that supports progressive candidates and causes. He is challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz for the Democratic Party nomination in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.