What Is a Universal Primary Election?

The state of Florida uses a closed primary election to determine the outcome of the elections, meaning voters in Pinellas County and throughout the state will only vote for candidates running in the party they are registered in. Residents without party affiliation will not vote until the General Election. This is different from open primaries, where voters can register with a party day-of, or vote for whichever party they want during the primary election.

On top of open and closed primaries, there’s one other type of primary that can change the ballots voters receive: a universal primary. Some voters in Pinellas County will participate in a universale primary in 2018, leading many voters to ask — what is it? And why am I voting in it?

What is a Universal Primary Election?

In Florida, a universal primary election occurs when all of the candidates in a primary election are from the same party and they will not have an opponent in the General Election.

In this instance, every voter in that primary — regardless of party affiliation or no-party affiliation — can vote in that race for one of the primary candidates. The primary candidate that receives the most votes is elected and the race does not appear on the General election.

In 1998, the Constitutional Revision Committee (CRC) added amendment 11 to the ballot, which included the following statement:

“[A universal primary] allows all voters, regardless of party, to vote in any party’s primary election if the winner will have no general election opposition”

Florida Voters passed this amendment with 64% of the vote. This amendment became law as Article VI, Section 5(b) in the Florida Constitution.

2018 Primary Election

In 2018, the only universal primary in Pinellas County is for State Representative in District 70. This district covers the south and eastern portions of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County and a portion Hillsborough County and Manatee County.

There are three candidates on the ballot and they are all Democratic, so every voter, regardless of their party affiliation, will have these three candidates on their ballot.

If you want to see if you live in district 70 and will participate in the universal primary vote this year, look up your address on the Florida House of Representatives website.

Universal Primary Election

Why Does Florida Have a Universal Primary System?

The universal primary system is meant to protect Florida voters and make sure everyone in the region, county, or state has a voice in who represents them. Using district 70 as an example, not everyone in the region is a registered democrat. There are also republicans, independents, and non-party affiliated citizens.

In a normal primary, all of these people would be able to choose who they want to represent them in the state House of Representatives. However, with our closed primary system, only the registered democrats in the area would be able to vote someone in, and that person would automatically be elected to the state office.

With universal primaries, everyone in district 70 has a say in who gets elected to the State House of Representatives, even if the elected official in 2018 is guaranteed to be a democrat.

A Note About Write-In Candidates

Universal Primaries are rare, even in districts where all the candidates are from one party because of “write-in” candidates. The courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, have repeatedly ruled that any qualified write-in candidate is a valid opponent in the General Election and therefore the primary will not be closed.

Do You Have Questions About Our Primary System?

The League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area is dedicated to helping Pinellas County residents understand our voting process — regardless of your party or political affiliation. Our democracy is strongest when everyone participates!

If you have any questions about the voting process, don’t hesitate to ask. Contact us today or reach out on Facebook and we will answer your voting questions.