Florida Amendment 3 explained: Eliminating parties from primaries

Florida's primary system could be upended this year, as polls show Amendment 3 is close to the 60% threshold of being approved by voters in the 2020 election.

"[It is] very, very fundamental to democracy that all voters vote and participate in the outcome and choose from all candidates," said Gene Stearns, an organizer who helped get the proposed amendment on the ballot.

RELATED: Florida Amendment 2 explained: Minimum wage hike

In a Florida primary, only members of a given political party can vote for a candidate from that party.

Voters affiliated with a third-party, or no party, are unable to vote for what candidate they want to see in the general election.

Amendment 3 would open primaries to all voters, even the 26% not registered as Democrat or Republican.

The top two vote-getters would go to the general election, meaning it could be Republican versus Republican, or Democrat versus Democrat.

Miami lawyer Gene Stearns has been pushing for the amendment for six years, which would open primaries for every state office, including governor, cabinet and state legislature to members of each political party, or none.

He argues it would make it tougher for those to the very left or very right to get elected.

"Both parties have moved to the extremes," said Stearns. "They have moved to the extremes because in order to be elected as a Democrat or Republican, you have to appeal to the 'quote' base of both of those parties."

But some, like former State Rep. Sean Shaw, say there's more to consider.

"It sounds great, it sounds like a laudable goal, to have more people vote," said Shaw, "but the problem is the unintended consequences."

He issued a report that calls Amendment 3, also known as All Voters Vote, "A disguised minority voter suppression effort." 

Using Sen. Darryl Rouson, who represents Tampa and St Pete, as an example, Shaw said the percentage of voters who supported Rouson was 49% black.

Under this system, he says it would be 30%.

That, he says, is a recipe for black legislators to lose five seats in Tallahassee.

"Those people believe that their concerns ought to be represented by someone they think is close to them, someone they can touch and feel, someone who they know," said Shaw.

Stearns says he's sensitive to issues of race, but chalks the criticism up to incumbents trying to protect their seats.

The amendment could mean that both major parties will not be represented on Florida ballots.

Voting in Florida 2020: Tampa Bay area election guide

To make sure your vote counts, there are several things to know about early voting in Florida and voting by mail in 2020. Here is county-by-county information about voting deadlines and methods in the Tampa Bay area.

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