A November 2017 Gallup Poll asked voters:
In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an independent?
The answers have been statistically steady for years, and they have a big impact in states like Florida. Generally across the USA, 4 out of every 10 registered voters describes themself as an independent, or No Party Affiliation (NPA), or aligned themselves with smaller parties.
Florida doesn’t fit the national statistics though. The most recent available confirmed data (11/30/17) from the Florida Division of Elections states there are 12,876,381 registered voters in Florida:
Republican Party of Florida: 4,550,146
Florida Democratic Party: 4,815,749
Minor Parties: 62,675
No Party Affiliation: 3,447,811
That adds up to 3,500,486 voters, about 27% of the Florida electorate, that don’t align themselves with either of the major political parties. That number has only risen by 5% over the last ten years. Why is that?
Probably because Florida is one of 9 states that have Closed Primaries*.
Closed Primaries mean that only voters registered to the party can vote in them. In Florida if there is no opponent from another party, then everyone can vote in that primary. Many voters cite the reason they register to one of the major parties is precisely because of the closed primaries.
Nathan Gula of Tampa told WMNF,
“I switch parties each election cycle since we live in a closed primary state so being an independent is useless.”
He added that after moving to Florida in 2008,
“I was registered Independent but didn’t realize in time about the closed primary status of Florida. So I missed out on voting and only go to vote in the general election. For 2012 I switched Republican because there was no point in voting Democrat since they were running an incumbent President. Then 2016 I was more passionate about the Democratic candidates and switched my party affiliation again.”
Nathan isn’t the only voter to game the primary system. Why does Florida have closed primaries? Closed primaries keep opponents of the parties’ shenanigans down, which might be the number one reason. An open primary would allow opposing parties to swamp the election and choose a candidate that isn’t the best one representing the party’s values. Does that happen in all of the states that have open primaries?
On the other hand, people like Palm Harbor’s Tom Denham III are trying to help choose less extreme candidates to emerge from the primary by being registered with a party.
Because Florida is a closed primary state, I’m a social-liberal who is registered as Republican. I support and vote for the most socially liberal Republicans available in the primaries hoping to influence the outcomes of better choices in the general election. I’ve been a registered Republican for this reason since I first registered to vote in 1990.
Are open primaries coming to Florida?
Truly open primaries aren’t close, but there is some movement toward change. A recent article in the Gainesville Sun by Michael Sainato wrote that there is a referendum to the state constitution that has gained some traction.
“…several groups are pushing for a referendum to be listed on the 2018 ballot so that voters can choose whether to enact open primaries in the state. Every 20 years, Florida holds a process for modernizing the state’s constitution. Out of more than 2,000 proposals submitted to Florida’s Constitutional Review Commission after hearings held across the state, the open primaries referendum was one of six proposals selected for consideration.”
Before anyone gets too excited, the open primaries proposal on the ballot is only to clarify some of the rules for the races where there isn’t any opposition besides write in candidates.
The group for Florida Fair & Open Primaries is promoting a fairly radical change for Florida voters. They would like all of the candidates listed on a single primary ballot that all registered voters can vote on, and the two top vote getters go on to the general election.
It’s all about the candidates.
Just because voters are registered NPA, it doesn’t mean that there are lots of candidates who are successful outside of the two party system. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is probably the most well known non-Democrat/non-Republican these days. He caucuses with the Democrats, and campaigned for president in 2016 as a Democrat, but remains listed on his website as an Independent, and has self-identified as one too. His proposals and voting record aligns with the progressive arm of the Democratic Party. One of Maine’s Senators, Angus King, also is an independent who hangs with the left.
It’s a lot harder for a candidate to run as an independent. Political parties, and their leaders’ political action committees, are a big part of funding a race. They have systems, volunteers, vendors, and a whole machine ready for the chosen candidate. Favors have to be done, and rewards given, for being a good party member. But people are starting to challenge the system.
Earlier this month there was a special election in Temple Terrace, District 58. Their representative was retiring, and four candidates were on the ballot. One of them was a no party candidate, Ahmad Saadaldin. He came in third, with 9% of the vote. The winning candidate, Republican Lawrence McClure, is also a young, first time candidate, but ran with the parties’ blessing and backing.
Steve Easterling of Lutz commented too, that being registered with a party doesn’t specifically tie him to that party’s candidates.
I’m still registered with a party, because it gives me more opportunities to vote, since we have closed primaries in Florida. I vote for good independent/3rd party candidates when I can (the last 2 presidential and gubernatorial elections, for example).
2018 will be at least pretty lively!
This is the portion of the post where we urge you to register to vote and stay informed, possibly by listening to WMNF. Below is the breakdown of voter registration numbers from Gallup.
And, by the way, you can check your voting status in Florida right here. There are a lot of important races in our beautiful state in 2018!
*Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, & Pennsylvania.
Four other states have partially closed primaries: Alabama [Democratic Party]; Alaska [Republican Party]; South Dakota [Constitution, Libertarian & Republican Parties, plus party aligned voters must vote only in party primary); starting in 2018 in Oklahoma [Republican Party]. Info from Ballotpedia, an excellent non-partisan voting info resource.