Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Florida Closed Primary

Under  Art. VI Section 5(b) of the Florida Constitution, if the only candidates who file for election to an office belong to the same party, the primary election between those candidates is open to all voters.  There is a loophole, however, in this so called universal primary law that allows someone to close what would otherwise be an open primary by filing as a write-in candidate for the general election. 

This loophole was challenged in the case of LaCasa, et al. v. Townsley, et al., in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.  In that case, the only candidates who filed to be on the  ballot for the office of State Attorney are two Democrats. This normally would result in voters from all parties being able to vote during the primary.  Because, however, 2 people filed as write-in candidates for the general election, only Democrats can vote in the primary because it is closed.  The plaintiffs alleged that the write-in candidates were shams who filed as write-ins solely for the purpose of excluding Republican and unaffiliated voters from the primary. This is not an uncommon practice in Florida and has been used by both major political parties to exclude opposing party members from voting in a primary. On July 25th, the District Court entered a Final Order of Dismissal rejecting the plaintiff’s challenge to the closed primary.  The court concluded that the plaintiffs should petition the legislature, rather than the courts, to close the loophole in the primary law.

Thomas D. Shults, Esq.

About Thomas D. Shults, Esq.

Tom Shults is a Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. He has represented clients in election and sunshine law issues, complex business and commercial disputes and probate and trust suits. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1983 and has maintained an active trial practice in state and federal courts for over 35 years. Mr. Shults successfully represented the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections in Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections et al. v. Browning et al. , where the Florida Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Sarasota County’s charter election law amendments. Mr. Shults has served on the Professional Ethics Committee of The Florida Bar and is the past Chairman of the Code and Rules of Evidence Committee of The Florida Bar. He is a recipient of the Distinguished Community Service Award of the Sarasota County Bar Association for his work with the Sarasota Mental Health Community Centers. In 2013 he was nominated for circuit court judge by the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Committee. Mr. Shults has served on the faculty of the Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques at Emory University School of Law and on the faculty of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Program for Practicing Lawyers at Nova Southeastern University School of Law. Mr. Shults grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida and is a graduate of St. Petersburg High School (1973), Florida State University (B.S. 1977) and Washburn University School of Law (J.D. cum laude 1982). He is veteran of the United States Army.
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One Response to Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Florida Closed Primary

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