Thousands of voters switching to two major parties for primary
Maybe they want to vote for Donald Trump. Maybe they want to vote for Bernie Sanders. This much is for sure: They want to vote.
Tens of thousands of voters with no party affiliation are rushing to beat Tuesday's voter registration deadline so they can cast ballots in Florida's presidential preference primary. County elections supervisors see a surge of NPA voters who are becoming overnight Republicans or Democrats.
The League of Women Voters of Florida sees it as a hopeful sign of growing interest in the Florida primary. "We're pleased that they're doing this," League President Pamela Goodman of Palm Beach told the Times/Herald Tuesday. "We want voters to do everything they can to be enfranchised to vote."
Florida is the largest of 13 states in the U.S. that remains a so-called closed primary state, meaning that only voters registered as Republicans or Democrats can vote in party contests on primary ballots. However, the system is coming under renewed criticism because the fastest-growing voting bloc is unaffiliated voters, and some of whom were not aware when they registered to vote that they can't vote in primaries.
In Tampa Bay, more NPA voters are joining the Democratic Party than are joining the Republican Party. Since the start of the new year in Pinellas, 1,194 voters switched from NPA to Democrat and 1,040 switched from NPA to Republican.
Across Tampa Bay in Hillsborough, the numbers are smaller but the trend is tilted more in the Democrats' favor. Since Jan. 1, 895 Hillsborough voters have switched from NPA to Democrat and 662 have switched from NPA to the GOP. Figures for the state's two largest counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, were not immediately available Tuesday.
In Tallahassee, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho did a mass mailing to all 38,000 NPA voters for the first time. His office says more than 2,000 have switched to a major party since Jan. 1. Leon is a heavily-Democratic county with more than 100,000 college students at two major state universities and a state college.
Florida's presidential primary is March 15, but the deadline to register or to change parties is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16.
Every year in Tallahassee, legislators who oppose the closed primary system file bills to switch to an open primary system, and every year they go nowhere, in part because both political parties favor the status quo.
The current versions were filed by two Democrats, Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando and Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura. Both appear dead on arrival in the bill hopper, as neither has been heard in any legislative committees.