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Does Florida's Closed Primary Shut the Door on Democracy?

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Some in Florida are renewing a call to change the way the state handles primary elections, so that more voters are allowed to cast ballots. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
Some in Florida are renewing a call to change the way the state handles primary elections, so that more voters are allowed to cast ballots. (DodgertonSkillhause/morguefile)
March 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It's primary election day in Florida, but since not all the state's registered voters get to participate, some folks believe it's time to vote for a change in the system.

Florida is one of only a handful of states that has a completely closed primary - meaning that people can only cast a primary vote for the political party in which they're registered. Duane Pike of Tampa, spokesman for the group Florida Fair and Open Primaries, said that's a problem when millions of Floridians have either declared themselves "Independent" voters or registered "No Party Affiliation" or NPA. Under the current rules, that means they're shut out of the primary.

"There's about 3.2 million people in Florida that are basically not happy with this system, and that's a lot of people," Pike said. "That's 27 percent of the voters that bothered to register in Florida."

Florida voters had the opportunity to switch their party affiliations, but that had to be done by Feb. 16 in order to vote in today's primary. Pike's group and others tried unsuccessfully in 2012 to gather the 680,000 signatures required for a ballot initiative to change Florida's primary system. He said they hope the increased attention on this year's election will help in future efforts.

Pike described himself as a combat veteran who risked his life overseas in the name of freedom, and said he finds it hard to believe that he and others like him aren't able to exercise their right to vote in their home state's primary.

"I sit here and look at all these guys getting shipped back over to Iraq and wherever for three or four tours," he said, "and I'm going, 'Guys, do you realize if you're an NPA, you can't vote in Florida?' It's crazy."

According to a recent report, the number of NPA or third-party voters in the state has quadrupled over the past 20 years.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL