There are numerous policy solutions that can directly and immediately improve Florida’s electoral system and therefore strengthen Florida’s democracy. FLIER (The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform) and our coalition partners work to educate the public and elected officials about these solutions in order to combat the money dominated and uncompetitive political status quo. FLIER has endorsed specific reforms that will help to ensure that competition, pluralism, and representation will be characteristics of Florida’s representative democracy in the future. These reforms are grouped within the five electoral system categories discussed below:
Gerrymandering is the practice of designing congressional, state, and local legislative districts according to self-serving political objectives. Districts are supposed to be compact, contiguous and community-based. However, in practice they tend to be quite the opposite. Gerrymandered districts are generally not competitive as voters have little choice and it has become next to impossible to defeat an incumbent. Such districts generally lean heavily toward one party, so that candidates are rarely forced to consider the other party or even the vast “middle” in order to win an election. Candidates simply appeal to their ideological base, which now often constitutes a majority of their district.
Florida is one of the worst gerrymandered states in the nation. Where legislators have shown themselves to be unable and unwilling to act in a fair and democratic manner. Ending the practice of gerrymandering is one of the many reforms needed to make elections fair and democratic. The following reforms are essential if Florida is to effectively end gerrymandering:
Florida’s election code contains serious flaws that impede the ability of voters to participate in elections and unnecessarily burden citizens’ right to vote. Restrictions and problems include: limitations on early voting; restrictive voter registration requirements such as those contained in Florida’s “no-match, no vote” law; unnecessary checkboxes on Florida’s voter registration application; insufficient restrictions on private challenges to voters’ registration; and rejection of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The following FLIER policy recommendations will eliminate these serious barriers to voting currently experienced by Florida’s voters:
By design, private money rules our election process, and therefore private money determines how the country is ruled. This is no more than simple acceptance of the adage “Who pays the fiddler, calls the tune.” We permit corporations and wealthy individuals to pay for election campaigns at all levels of government, and we therefore accept the domination of private wealth over government. Election outcomes profoundly impact every citizen, because the winners decide who pays taxes and how we spend them, whether we have peace or war, how we regulate and control the economy, whether we take care of our poor and elderly, and on and on. As citizens, if we want to control how the country is run – that is, if we want to elect representatives to government who will run it the way most of us want them to – we must change the way we finance elections.
The State of Florida is no exception to this story. Aside from the Florida Election Campaign Finance Act, an ineffective program of matching contributions for candidates for governor and cabinet offices, Florida currently operates a privately financed political system.
Private financing damages democracy in two major ways. First, elections are financially out of reach for those without access to wealth. This means that there is little economic or racial diversity among candidates. A government elected in this manner can only have an elitist view of the world, so it comes as no surprise that the needs of the non-elite majority are relegated to a low priority, coming far behind the interests of the dominating economic elite. Second, elected officials must spend large amounts of their time (on taxpayer salaries) raising private money for their re-election campaigns. The time spent fund-raising is time away from developing legislation and managing the country’s resources. This lack is gladly filled by minions of the privately wealthy who put them in office, who are happy to write the laws to their own advantage. Of course the legislators are happy for the help, and willing to vote for the laws put in place by their financiers: noncompliance means a loss of campaign funds and risk of losing the next election.
Clearly, private financing has an anti-democratic effect on the political system. It limits the competition that is necessary to a healthy democracy; it eliminates the electoral control that citizens of a democracy should exert over their government representatives. And it permits a tiny, powerful sector of the society to perpetuate these democratic flaws through the use of their wealth to maintain control, primarily by financing elections.
The Florida Initiative for Electoral Reform, along with our coalition partners, believes that elections should be treated as a public good, in the same way that highways and national defense are public goods: we use taxpayer money to finance them, and the entire country shares equally in their benefits. The solution to our anti-democratic, privately financed election system, is a democratic, publicly financed election system.
Several states, including Maine and Arizona, have publicly financed “Clean Elections” systems that do treat elections as a public good. Candidates have the option of utilizing public funds if they reject all private financing. These "Clean Elections" systems have opened opportunities to candidates who could never have run under the privately financed system. The legislatures of these states are now more diverse than in other states, and, as the stranglehold of special interests has weakened, their democratic institutions have been strengthened.
FLIER supports passage of SB2264, the Florida Clean Elections Act, including implementation of the following campaign finance reforms that will help give government control to Florida voters. FECA will:
A major problem associated with Florida’s electoral system is the method utilized to count votes. Florida’s electoral system is a “winner-take-all” voting system. This means that the candidate with the most votes wins, even if the winner does not have majority support.
Such a voting system has major negative consequences for democracy and representation in Florida. For example, many citizens go unrepresented and such a voting system institutionalizes a stifling two-party dominated political regime. Candidates from outside the two-party system are marginalized or relegated to the role of “spoiler.”
In stark contrast to the current voting system, ranked choice voting (instant runoff voting or IRV) allows voters to rank their candidate choices in order of preference. If there is not a majority winner when the votes are counted, then the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped. If the dropped candidate was an individual voter’s first choice, the second choice becomes their first choice and the votes are recounted. This repeats until there is a majority winner. Implementing ranked choice voting would democratize government and help to break the two-party stranglehold. FLIER supports the following policy solutions related to ranked choice voting and multi-member districts:
Florida’s closed primary system and ballot access laws are a barrier to competitive, pluralistic, and representative democracy. The two major parties are given privileged ballot access and access to voters, while “third” parties are at a disadvantage. Ballot access restriction is a tool used to discourage political competition. It is utilized along with gerrymandering and the private financing of elections to help create and facilitate the current, uncompetitive political environment.
In order to lay the foundation for competition and pluralism in Florida’s democracy, the issues of candidate nomination, party organization, and ballot accessibility must be addressed. The following reforms will help to remove such barriers and improve the accessibility of the political system for all: