Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed her fourth legal challenge of a citizen initiative vying for the November 2020 ballot.
Moody this week -- joined by the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party -- filed a motion with the state Supreme Court to block a prospective “open” primary proposal from being presented to voters.
“The proposed ballot language does not open Florida primaries, it eliminates them, and gives party bosses -- not voters -- sole discretion over the party candidate nominating process,” Moody said in a statement. “This proposed summary does not disclose that fact to voters and would undo a system set up to prevent political corruption and closed-door deal making.”
Of the six petition-driven campaigns that have met preliminary qualifications for the 2020 ballot, Moody has challenged four. The others opposed by the state’s AG Office are prospective ballot measures seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, ban “assault weapons” and deregulate the energy industry.
Moody's motion to remove the “open” primary measure from the 2020 ballot drew a response within hours from its sponsor, Tallahassee-based All Voters Vote (AVA) -- a 27-page brief filed with the Supreme Court stating its proposed constitutional amendment complies with all legal requirements for the ballot.
“The ballot title and summary of the AVA amendment clearly and unambiguously inform voters of its chief, and sole, purpose: allowing all qualified registered voters to vote in primary elections for state elective office without regard to the party affiliation of voters and candidates,” AVA wrote.
Florida is one of nine states with “closed” primary elections limited exclusively to party-registered voters. Under AVA’s proposal, registered voters could cast ballots in “open” primary elections for State Legislature, Governor and Cabinet, regardless of political affiliation.
The two candidates getting the most votes in each “open” primary would advance to the general election -- a “jungle” system similar to California’s.
AVA has received $6.745 million in contributions, including $6.4 million since April, with more than $6 million coming from Miami healthcare executive Mike Fernandez.
In addition to Moody’s complaint, Florida’s Democratic and Republican parties also argue the Supreme Court should block it from the ballot.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terri Rizzo said the two 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidates received more GOP primary votes each than did any one of the Democratic primary’s five hopefuls.
“If this had been law in 2018, voters would have had to choose between Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam for governor,” Rizzo said. “A proposal which would eliminate the chance for a Democrat to make the ballot is not democratic.”
Republicans also want the measure stricken from the ballot.
“Voters considering whether to adopt such a radical change to Florida’s election process are entitled to a ballot summary that clearly and unambiguously describes the choice before them and is not misleading,” GOP attorneys wrote in their complaint. “The proposal here fails to satisfy this basic – yet critically important – legal requirement.”.
The Supreme Court on Feb. 4 will review Moody’s objections to ballot language for the prospective “assault weapons” ban and legalizing recreational marijuana constitutional amendments.
Ban Assault Weapons Now’s (BAWN) proposal had submitted 111,935 signatures to the DOE as of Thursday afternoon.
Its language is “clearly and conclusively defective,” Moody argued in a July 26 petition to block it from being on the ballot, stating the proposal asks voters to virtually ban every semi-automatic long-barreled firearm, including shotguns, as “assault weapons.”
Sensible Florida’s "Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions" proposal would, essentially, legalize use and possession of marijuana by adults at least 21 years old. As of Thursday, it had submitted 91,318 signatures to the DOE.
Moody on Sept. 11 petitioned the Supreme Court to not allow Sensible Florida’s “misleading” initiative from qualifying for the ballot, noting the prospective measure’s language is longer than Article I of Florida’s Constitution and 30 Constitutional amendments combined.
“There’s no way 10 pages of the law can be summarized clearly in 75 words,” Moody said, referring to the word limit for summaries voters will see on the ballot.
Moody has also petitioned to remove from the ballot a prospective "Energy Choice" measure that would allow individual customers to choose energy providers or produce their own. As of Thursday, 457,966 voters had signed onto the initiative.
Moody, House and Senate leaders, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Health Care Association and the Florida Public Service Commission are among those seeking to short-circuit the “energy choice” measure.
Opponents call it a “Frankenstein’s Monster of policies” and a power grab by start-up companies that want to carve into a market dominated by four investor-owned utilities.
John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.