Keep elections open by ending write-in abuse
by Chuck Winn, Guest Columnist, The Stuart News
18 Sept. 2013
My greatest mistake in 11 years of political involvement was in organizing the 2008 Martin County write-in effort known as “Operation Iron Claw.” Our intentions were never to pull a last-minute gimmick to close the primary, but to stimulate two-party competition for local offices in the general election.
In fact, I even began personally informing key county Democrats seven months before the filing deadline that the primaries would be closed and urged them to recruit candidates for the November election.
My running mate Eric Miller and I also met with the Democratic chairman a month before the filing deadline, urging him to recruit a full slate of candidates. Our objectives were partially successful, because for the first time in 20 years all County Commission races were contested in November election, the way the process is supposed to work.
That certainly benefited the Republican Party because locals were forced to get out and pull for the entire ticket because they weren’t able to stop their heavy lifting after winning universal primaries open to all voters.
Unfortunately, I failed to consider that independents would be disenfranchised or that Democrats would not be able to recruit candidates for the offices of sheriff, school superintendent and tax collector.
My biggest regret however, is that I never considered that I would establish a precedent that abusive manipulators would exploit.
In 2010 the write-in was used as a last-minute gimmick exclusively for excluding Democratic and independent voters from one of the Martin County Commission races, but had no impact on the outcome.
However, in the 2012 primaries, this gimmick was used by supporters of three GOP primary candidates who managed to win with percentages in the low 40s.
The victorious sheriff’s candidate would have likely still won by a narrow margin. However the victors in the races for County Commission District 1 and House District 82 had limited appeal outside of the Republican Party base, and may very well have lost if those primaries had remained open.
My sincerest apologies go to all those voters who were disenfranchised because of the bad precedent I established in 2008.
The write-in tactic does not just hurt Democrats and independents, it also disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of Republicans when it is applied in Democratic-dominated metropolitan areas, as in the last Miami Dade state attorney’s race.
It is time for the public to demand a major legislative repair of this abuse during the 2014 session of the Florida Legislature.
Unaffiliated voters must be given the option of choosing a ballot for one of the two parties on primary day. Our Republican legislative leadership should recognize that the GOP cannot win general elections without support of independents.
Let me also remind fellow conservatives that most independents tend to break our way on economic and foreign policy issues and we cannot afford to alienate them by shutting them out of the process.
Party primary elections can and should still remain closed. This protects both parties from being “raided” by voters from the opposing party seeking to nominate the weakest opposition candidates.
The solution is to give the party executive committee shut out by a last minute write-in two extra weeks after the filing deadline an option of selecting a candidate to run in November. That’s good for both parties and good public policy.
Chuck Winn, Stuart, has been involved in numerous political campaigns for Republicans. In 2008, he ran for Martin County sheriff in the “Iron Claw” write-in effort.