The state attorney is one of those countywide positions thats high profile and in the crosshairs of the political winds, criticized for being either too tough on the young and the foolish or too soft on the bad guys. But never, ever, has a blank space on a general election ballot operated to close a winner-take-all state attorney primary in the state of Florida.
So says the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by the attorneys for Miami-Dade voters Vincent J. Mazzilli, whos not affiliated with any political party, and Armando Lacasa, a registered Republican. They have filed a federal lawsuit against Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley, the accidental defendant in this latest case of write-in candidates perversely denying the publics will and civil rights.
As an independent, unaffiliated voter the past 20 or so years, Im cheering for justice to be done and for this Democratic primary between State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and Rod Vereen be opened for all of Miami-Dades nearly 1.3 million voters. Otherwise, only Democrats (43 percent of all county voters) will have a say in electing our next chief prosecutor all thanks to the manipulation of write-in candidates who dont have to raise a penny to pay a filing fee or gather signatures to earn their little blank space on the general election ballot.
These phantom candidates often doing the bidding for one of the candidates in a primary who sees better chances of getting elected with fewer voters able to choose never get more than a handful of votes (according to voting records going back 25 years, less than one-third of one percent!) from their friends and family.
In this race, it would mean that the winner in the Democratic primary would run against a blank space for write-ins on the general election ballot guaranteeing that only Democrats will have elected the winner. The presence of just one of these invisible write-ins you rarely see them in public appearances or fund-raisers; they dont put up campaign signs or answer reporters phone calls or emails essentially turns a one-party primary into a general election.
Theyre denying 700,000 Republican or independent voters in Miami-Dade any say in the prosecutors race. Thats not what Florida voters intended in 1998 when they voted nearly 2-1 for open primaries when theres no opposing-party candidate in the general election.
Back in the 1980s, I was writing columns in Orlando pressing the Legislature to open primaries to all unaffiliated voters, as other states have done. Otherwise, unaffiliated voters are forced to sit on our hands and wait for the general election, often too late to make a difference in the decision. Oh, I know, Im such a dreamer, because that issue went nowhere in partisan Tallahassee.
But as the number of registered unaffiliated voters began to balloon (now about 25 percent of Miami-Dade voters, 23 percent in Broward and 20 percent statewide) a sign of the mostly moderate voters disgust with the two major parties selling out to special interests in Florida serendipity happened. The states Constitution Revision Commission which meets every 10 years to consider Florida constitutional amendments to be put before voters decided in 1998 that all voters should weigh in in open primaries when theres no opposing party candidate in the general election. I was happy with that half-loaf.