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No-party status gaining approval

More voters are claiming no party affiliation. Experts say the motor voter law may be a factor.

Since the last major election, more Floridians have registered to vote, but the number choosing to join one of the two major parties has declined.

State voter rolls are purged in non-election years to eliminate people who haven't voted in five years.

After the 1999 purge, registration in the two major parties decreased by more than 41,000 voters _ Democrats losing 23,183 and Republicans 17,988.

But the total number of registered voters increased by more than 50,000 between Election Day 1998 and the end of 1999, according to state Division of Elections records.

In that year, the number registered to vote with "no party affiliation" increased by nearly 68,000.

"I wouldn't say "apathy,' but I wonder if folks are asking the question, "What benefit are these parties to me, economically, educationally, socially?' " said Keith Simmonds, a political-science professor at Florida A&M University. "I wonder if the rise in no-party registration suggests that voters are dissatisfied with the outcomes that we get with either party."

Ed Kast, administrator of the National Voter Registration Act for the state Division of Elections, said the so-called "motor voter" law was a factor.

The 1995 federal law requires states to offer potential voters the opportunity to register at motor vehicle tag agencies, public schools, welfare offices, military recruiting offices, libraries and many other non-courthouse points.

People may not be thinking of political philosophy when they go to renew a driver's license, leading to larger numbers of "neutral" registrations, Kast said.

The number of non-party registrations statewide has risen from 527,681 in 1994 _ 8 percent of the rolls when Jeb Bush lost his first race for governor _ to more than 1.1-million, about 14 percent, when Bush finished his first year as governor.

In addition to voters who register without a party affiliation, those registering with minor parties, such as the Independent Party or the Reform Party, also increased by more than 20,000 voters in 1999.

Feb. 14 is the deadline to register to vote or to change party affiliation for the March 14 Florida Presidential Preference Primary. You must be registered Democrat or Republican to cast a ballot in the presidential contest or in the summer and fall state primaries.