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Revision 11: 5 points that shuffle the ballot


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 1998

No doubt you were a good citizen last night and listened to every word of the gubernatorial debate. (Don't you love the word "gubernatorial?")

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However, if I could gently tug your attention toward another worthy, election-related topic. . . .

One of the biggest changes Florida will consider this year is Revision 11, which would dramatically change the way we run our elections.

Revision 11 is one of 13 constitutional amendments on the Nov. 3 ballot. If it passes, here is what it would do:

Make it just as easy for independents and minor-party candidates to get on the ballot in Florida as it is for Democrats and Republicans.

Allow all voters, regardless of their party, to vote in one party's primary election when no other party has candidates in that race.

Allow candidates for governor to wait until after the September primary to choose a running mate.

Switch to non-partisan races for all county school boards.

Guarantee public financing to statewide candidates who agree to limit their campaign spending.

As you can see, Revision 11 would make a lot of changes. You might agree with some of them but deeply oppose others. Unfortunately, we have to choose between all or none.

Probably the most important part of Revision 11 is ballot access. If you are not a Republican or a Democrat, it is harder to get on the ballot in Florida than in any other state.

If you are in a major party, all you have to do is write a check. (Florida also has the highest filing fees in the nation, by the way.)

But if you are not in a major party, then you have to go get signatures on a petition. You have to get the signatures of 3 percent of all registered voters in the district you're running in.

For statewide office, that means more than a quarter-million signatures, gathered within a 180-day period.

"It does not take a political expert," argues David Goldman, a backer of Revision 11, "to realize it is practically impossible for an independent to collect over 1,250 petition signatures every day for six months."

The next change, letting everybody vote in one party's primary, is a little tougher to swallow for some people. Paul Bedinghaus, the Pinellas Republican chairman, recently put it this way: "I don't want Communists or Socialists choosing my party's nominee."

Actually, my friend Paul is a lot more worried about those nasty old Democrats choosing the Republican nominee. And if the parties were still private clubs, that would be a good point.

But primary elections are not private club meetings. They are run with public dollars, using public elections offices, under the public laws. They ought to let everybody in the public vote in them.

The next idea, letting a candidate for governor wait to choose a running mate, makes sense. That's how we do it in the presidential race. Why not let the nominee try to sign up one of his or her defeated rivals, uniting the party and putting forward a stronger ticket?

As for school boards, most counties in Florida now must elect them by political party. Revision 11 would make those races non-partisan. I have never understood why a pencil or textbook bought by a Democrat was better than one bought by a Republican.

The last piece of Revision 11 is public financing, which lots of people don't like. They call it "welfare for politicians." But we already have public financing in our law books -- Revision 11 simply writes it into the Constitution.

There are now more than 1-million people in Florida who are registered to vote without a political party. Maybe they can't vote in the primary, but they sure as heck can vote on Nov. 3, and I betcha Revision 11 passes. That ought to jazz things up a little the next time around.


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