Progressives Back Lawsuit to Force Florida Presidential Primary

Then-Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried and President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 19, 2021.


(Uncredited/Nikki Fried's Facebook page)

Florida progressives are throwing their weight behind a federal lawsuit to force the state to hold a Democratic presidential primary next year.

TYT has learned that progressive leaders in the Florida Democratic Party are backing the lawsuit, which seeks to have Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) included on the state party’s presidential primary ballot.

And the progressive group wants to go a step further, asking for a judgment to make the party include all eligible Democratic candidates, including author Marianne Williamson and TYT CEO Cenk Uygur, on the ballot.

News of legal action by Florida progressives against their own party comes a week after Uygur filed a challenge with the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Uygur is contesting the party’s decision to nix the presidential primary by making Pres. Joe Biden the Florida party’s sole presidential candidate.

The DNC has given the Florida Democratic Party until Jan. 5 to rule on Uygur’s challenge.

The request from the progressive group, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, is coming in the form of a legal motion expected next month seeking permission to file an amicus curiae brief in the case.

Biden’s rivals and Florida Democrats have been at odds for weeks over claims of party voter suppression. An Oct. 29 vote on the ballot took many members of the party’s executive committee by surprise.

As TYT reported, some members were unaware that they would be voting to select presidential candidates during their state convention, or that limiting the ballot to Biden alone would trigger state law that cancels primaries when there’s only one candidate. The committee’s meeting agenda didn’t mention that there would be a vote to choose ballot candidates.

Despite the backlash from candidates and party members, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried tweeted that it would be “undemocratic” for her to override the executive committee’s decision.

But candidates have demanded that Fried submit a revised list of presidential candidates to the secretary of state to include their names. She could’ve done so before the Dec. 12 deadline for submissions, but did not.

Now, Florida Democrats are worried that the canceled presidential primary will impact down-ballot candidates and voter turnout.

According to the draft motion obtained by TYT, Florida progressives will ask the federal court for permission to offer guidance in the federal lawsuit, brought by attorney Michael Steinberg.

Steinberg’s suit against the state party and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd claims the process for canceling the presidential primary by handing all of Florida’s Democratic delegates to Biden was unconstitutional.

The suit reportedly claims that, “Were the court to deny relief, a grave inequity would result because only President Joseph Biden would have gained access to the ballot by unconstitutional means.”

The progressive motion to back Steinberg's suit is being filed not just by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. It also includes the heads of progressive caucuses for Broward, Miami-Dade, and Duval Counties, and at least one DNC member.

Carolina Ampudia, president of Broward County’s progressive caucus and spokesperson for the parties filing the motion, told TYT that their commitment to safeguarding democratic principles “transcends party lines.”

“All eligible Democratic candidates deserve a fair chance on the primary ballot. This aligns with our commitment to justice and serves the best interests of Florida taxpayers and voters,” said Ampudia. “It is imperative that federal courts exercise caution in situations where state parties restrict presidential candidates from participating in primaries.”

Florida is just one of a growing number of states leaving Biden’s rivals off Democratic primary ballots. Massachusetts became the latest state to do so on Wednesday, according to Williamson.

The exclusion of Biden’s challengers has continued as polling shows most Democratic voters want an alternative to Biden – who is running as a defender of democracy. The result has been waning trust and enthusiasm among younger voters and voters of color. Some longtime Democrats are considering turning away from the party altogether.

And now that GOP frontrunner Donald Trump may be kicked off the ballot in Colorado, Republicans are threatening to remove Biden in states they control, including Florida.

Florida Democratic Party member Jen Barrett told TYT that even though the secretary of state’s deadline passed last week, there’s still time to change the ballot between now and March. Barrett also serves as secretary for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

“They basically have that deadline so they have time to send the names and lists to all of the supervisors of elections to print up ballots. So extending the deadline for a week or two weeks or even a month is not going to ruin the entire state's election in March,” said Barrett. “I don't know why she's [Fried] so adamant of not listening to the people of the state.”

Barrett also cited concerns about the impact on other candidates running in local and statewide primary races.

The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida said in a statement that an unintended consequence of canceling the Democratic presidential primary “will be depressed, possibly disastrous, voter turnout for municipal elections scheduled on the same day.”

And the caucus argues that eliminating the presidential primary could result in further attacks on the personal lives of Floridians through “a coordinated effort by bad actors on the right to take over local government commissions, councils, and boards.”

Barrett said, “[I]t's not just, we can't vote for somebody other than Joe Biden. It's a lot of ramifications that I don't think Nikki Fried realized or thought about.”

Fried did not respond to TYT’s request for comment on this story.

Editor's note: TYT CEO Cenk Uygur has recused himself from oversight of TYT's original reporting for the duration of his presidential campaign.

Candice Cole is TYT’s Washington correspondent. You can find her on Twitter @CandiceColeNews.