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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Time to let independents to vote in Fla's Democratic primaries?



Florida's election schedule has never made much sense.

Candidates spend 18 months or so campaigning for their party nomination, courting hard-core activists at every partisan barbecue for primary elections that draw few voters. Then, often broke and politically wounded, nominees have just two months to make their case to the overall Florida electorate.

Voters unaffiliated with either major party are the fastest growing part of the electorate and usually decide Florida elections. Yet under Florida's closed primary system, independents have no say and are largely ignored until the very end of the campaign season.

Former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has an intriguing idea for his party: open Democratic primaries to independent voters. It would take merely an internal rule change by the party, he said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled political parties have a "right of association" and can include whomever they wish in their nomination process.

Why do it? Democrats have a lousy track record turning out voters in nonpresidential years. If unaffiliated voters were included in the primary, it would force primary candidates to reach out to a big chunk of the electorate that is crucial in the general election.

"It would force us to engage early and meaningfully important voters who by definition are unaffiliated and in play,'' said Gelber, who ran for attorney general in 2010. He said the move could help the party in 2014.

Who else might it help? Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist is widely seen as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2014. If he does run, Crist could have a tough time in a primary, given his history supporting Republican priorities. But Crist remains popular with independent voters.

Gelber insisted his proposal has nothing to do with any specific candidate or race.

"The diversity of nonaffiliated voters in Florida makes it impossible to divine who this would help," he said. "Charlie and (former gubernatorial candidate) Alex (Sink) could both argue it helps them, and any mayor who represents these voters could make the same argument."

[Last modified: Sunday, August 5, 2012 8:30pm]


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