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Florida Supreme Court reviews ballot initiative to open state primaries

'I feel good about the effort we made'
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Posted at 8:36 PM, Dec 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-04 18:33:21-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s now up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide if Floridians will be able to vote on a major overhaul of the state’s primary-election system next year.

The proposed constitutional amendment would open state primaries to millions of voters without party affiliation. The top-two vote-getters then advance to general elections.

After a hearing Tuesday morning, justices were set to determine whether the measure’s proposed language for the 2020 ballot is misleading.

Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody and both Republican and Democratic parties have challenged it. They argue people won’t understand what they’re voting on.

“The proposed amendment, if adopted, would eliminate important rights possessed, not only by individual voters who are members of a party but also the parties themselves,” said Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey DeSousa, speaking on behalf of Attorney General Moody. “The ballot summary does not properly apprise voters those rights will be taken away.”

At least two of the justices sounded as though they weren’t buying that argument. Justice Alan Lawson was one of them.

“You read the summary and give it a few seconds of thought, you’re going to realize the implications of it,” Lawson said during arguments. “I’m struggling as to why that’s not true— it explains what it does, it seems, accurately.”

Justice Carlos Muniz, however, wondered if voters knew approval would allow changes not specifically mentioned in the ballot language, like a party’s ability to create preprimaries to nominate candidates.

“This summary doesn’t tell you how the status quo is going to be changed,” Muñiz said, “because we don’t know how the status quo will be changed, right?”

The measure has the required number of petition signatures, meaning the Supreme Court review is the final hurdle to get to voters.

Glenn Burhans chairs the group backing the change, All Voters Vote. Following the hearing, he was feeling confident justices would rule favorably and green light the language, saying his group spent a lot of time crafting it.

“We tried to follow the law closely and Supreme Court precedent that would enable us to get on the ballot,” Burhans said. “We were trying to fit within the bounds of the law. I think we did that, I feel good about the effort we made. Hopefully, the justices will agree.”

It’s anyone’s guess when the justices will have their answer. But with the election fast approaching, expectations were a ruling would come sooner rather than later.