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Write-In Candidate Closes House Race in Polk County

Jul 17, 2018

Florida's closed primary rules are affecting races in several districts this year, including the Polk County's House District 56.

A write-in candidate in the race has closed the primary to non-Republican voters, which make up 62 percent of the electorate. 

County Commissioner Melony Bell and Jeff Mann, both of the Republican Party, were the original candidates in the race. When David Joseph Patzer filed as a write-in candidate, registered Democrats lost their chance to vote.

“It’s one of the most troubling, confusing dimensions of Florida election law,” said  Susan MacManus, University of South Florida political scientist and analyst.

The 1998 state constitutional amendment states that if only one party puts up candidates, any registered voter can participate in the primary. However, when a write-in files for candidacy in the race, the primary becomes closed and only voters registered with the candidates' party can participate.

“The Division of Elections has ruled that a write-in candidate is another choice for people, and that means that you would not have a situation where only one party is offering the candidates,” MacManus said.

Though polls have shown that most Floridians disapprove of the write-in loophole, legislators have declined to change the law.  

“The legislature has refused to change it and so too did the Constitutional Revision Commission,” MacManus said. “They too could also have put forward a proposed amendment that would let people in Florida vote on whether they wanted to get rid of that write-in loophole. The CRC chose not to put that on the ballot.”

MacManus advises Floridians to pressure their legislators and begin a petition drive to get something on the 2020 ballot.

“Only the legislature or a constitutional amendment approved by the voters could change the situation,” MacManus said.

Of the five races across the state where the write-in loophole has come into play, four are in Democratic races and one is Republican. In order to vote, those affected must change their party affiliation before July 30 to the designated party.