What Is Florida’s Amendment 3, Also Known As The 'Jungle Primary'?

Sep 15, 2020
Originally published on October 14, 2020 3:42 pm

Amendment 3: All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet

Also known as: The “Jungle Primary” amendment, although the backers of the amendment say the term has racist connotations. It’s also been called a nonpartisan blanket primary, a qualifying primary or a top-two primary.

Ballot summary: Allows all registered voters to vote in primaries for state legislature, governor, and cabinet regardless of political party affiliation. All candidates for an office, including party nominated candidates, appear on the same primary ballot. Two highest vote getters advance to the general election. If only two candidates qualify, no primary is held and the winner is determined in the general election. Candidate’s party affiliation may appear on the ballot as provided by law. Effective January 1, 2024.

Florida currently has a closed primary system. That means to vote in a primary election to nominate, for example, the Democratic party’s candidate for Attorney General, you must be registered as a Democrat in Florida. But in this example, only a registered Democrat can vote in this primary – Republicans can’t cast votes in the Democrats’primary. But just as importantly, people registered with no political party can’t cast a ballot in a party primary.

Sponsors of the amendment say that system is inherently unfair, and leads to candidates from both parties becoming more extreme to appeal to the smaller base of voters who actually cast ballots in the primary. Florida’s closed primary system can shut out the 3.6 million Florida voters not registered with a major party. Candidates sometimes game the system to close an election off as well, particularly in districts that aren’t competitive between Democrats and Republicans.

If three or more candidates qualify for an elected office, all candidates would appear on the primary ballot together. Any registered voter can cast a ballot for any candidate – regardless of political party. Candidates would be allowed to have which political party they are affiliated with on the ballot as well. The two candidates with the most votes would then face off in the general election.

Currently, only thirteen states and Washington D.C. have closed primaries like Florida. But just three other states (California, Washington state and Louisiana) have a top-two primary system. The majority of states have semi-open or semi-closed primaries, where people registered as independents can vote in any party’s primary, or voters can switch parties on election day, or where voters request which party’s ballot they want.

Yes. Nothing in the amendment would block two candidates from the same political party from appearing in the general election together. In the states with a top-two primary, this has happened, but it’s rare that usually happens when a party puts too many candidates in a primary and splits the vote. In Washington State’s 2016 election for state treasurer, five candidates were vying for an open seat. That led to two Republicans competing in the general election.

South Florida Billionaire Miguel “Mike” Fernandez is the primary financier of this constitutional amendment. Fernandez said his experiences fleeing Cuba as a child and coming to the U.S. as a refugee showed him what happens when political extremes take power.

When Trump won the Republican party’s nomination, Fernandez left the party and became an independent. That’s when he discovered how Florida’s primary system can shut out independent voters

“I went to vote in the last primaries, only to find out that if I was not a registered Republican nor Democrat, I was not allowed to vote in primaries, I could only vote in the general election.”

Fernandez founded All Voters Vote Inc., which raised more than $7 million dollars to get the amendment on the ballot, with most of the money coming directly from Fernandez or related entities.

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, both the Republican Party of Florida and the Democratic Party of Florida unsuccessfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the amendment from the ballot. The parties argue that a top-two primary system doesn’t open a party’s primary, it eliminates it.

“Instead, the ballot title and summary … conceal and mislead as to the proposed amendment’s chief purpose: abolishing Florida’s longstanding party primary elections,” the Republican Party of Florida argued to the Supreme Court. “The proposal in fact eliminates party primary elections for certain offices, while repurposing the constitutional term ‘primary election’ to refer to an entirely different process for narrowing the field of candidates for these offices in the general election: a Top-Two ‘Jungle Primary.’”

Several groups have run an analysis on the impact of Amendment 3 on minority representation in Florida’s cabinet and Legislature.

People Over Profits, a political election committee run by former Democratic Florida Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, examined the racial makeup of primary voters. That report concluded four Florida Senate seats would lose their majority black status and eight Florida House seats would lose their majority black status.

Shaw said he supports opening primaries to voters with no party affiliation.

“At the altar of moderation, I’ve got to sacrifice African American electeds, Hispanic electeds, progressive electeds, and it’s more expensive? I’m not sure that’s a deal I’m willing to do and a deal worth doing,” Shaw said.

The main argument for a top-two primary is it will lead to more moderate candidates. And more moderate candidates from both parties would mean a better chance that they can govern while working together.

Eric McGhee with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California has studied the effect of the top-two system in California. His research suggests California lawmakers did become more moderate after the top two went into effect in 2012.

But it wasn’t the cure for political polarization that the proponents in California pitched it as.

“The biggest knock on the top two is that it doesn’t seem to have had much of the effect that was imagined for it,” McGhee said. “The moderating effect is modest. It’s real, but it’s modest. And voters can sometimes produce some sort of crazy results.”

It’s not clear if the amendment would favor one party over another, especially given that both parties are against the amendment.

In an interview with The State We’re In, Fernandez said he does not want to help or hurt either party.

“Let me make something clear: I do not want to hurt either the Republican nor the Democratic Party,” said Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, the main backer of the amendment. “This is not ‘I want to destroy either party.’ I just want to encourage both parties to talk to people that are more centrist. that are more moderate, that are more representative of who the rest of us are.”

This story is part of The State We’re In, an elections reporting initiative from WUSF and WMFE in Orlando. It’s produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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