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  1. Florida Politics
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Want to help pick the presidential nominee? There’s still time to register.

If you want to vote in Florida’s presidential preference primary on March 17, you need to make sure you’re registered as either a Democrat or a Republican by Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know.
The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office is seen Wednesday in St. Petersburg. The deadline to register to vote in the Florida primary is Feb. 18. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

If you want to vote in Florida’s presidential preference primary on March 17, you need to make sure you’re registered as either Democrat or Republican by Tuesday.

Here’s what you need to know.

Florida has closed primaries.

That means that only Florida voters who are registered as Democrats may vote in the Democratic presidential primary, and only those registered as Republican may vote in the Republican presidential primary. Eleven other states conduct primaries like Florida.

Other states do it differently. In New Hampshire, for instance, voters unaffiliated with any party, or independents, are allowed to vote in the primary of their choosing. In 12 other states, the primaries are completely open, meaning a voter can pick which primary they’d like to vote in, meaning Democrats could vote in a Republican primary, and vice versa.

But in Florida, if you don’t register in the next week for either party, you’ll be closed out of casting a ballot for a presidential candidate during the state’s March 17 preference primary.

It’s important to note that there’s no penalty for choosing to switch parties in order to vote in the primary. You just need to do so by Tuesday. You can opt to switch your party affiliation again later.

But not many voters actually do this. So far this year, from Jan. 1 through Tuesday (Feb. 11), 1,862 independent voters in Pinellas County have switched their affiliation to Republican or Democrat (although 550 Democrats and Republicans switched to no party affiliation during the same span). In Hillsborough, 3,024 independents voters switched to Democrat or Republican during this time period.

There has been debate about whether Florida should continue to be a closed primary state, particularly as trends show that the fastest-growing group in the state is voters who are not affiliated with either of the two major parties.

You can still vote in a local election even if you’re not a Democrat or Republican

In addition to the presidential preference primary, some municipalities will also conduct elections on March 17, including the cities of Clearwater, Gulfport, Pinellas Park and Tarpon Springs.

You don’t have to be a Republican or Democrat to vote in those elections. But you do still need to be a registered voter by Tuesday’s Feb. 18 deadline.

Linda Hadley, 57, from St. Petersburg, shows off her "I registered to vote today" sticker after registering to vote for her very first time Wednesday in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

You can register online.

Unlike in the 2016 election, Florida now has online voter registration. You can register online at RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.

You can also register to vote by mail or in person. Registrations by mail must be postmarked by Tuesday, Feb. 18, in order to be eligible for the March 17 election and primary.

You must be a U.S. citizen to register, as well as a Florida resident and at least 18 years old.

You will need to have your driver’s license or Florida identification card to register. If registering online, you’ll also need the last four digits of your social security number; those digits can also be used to help you register if you don’t have either of the other two forms of identification.

If you’re already registered in Florida but moved, you can change your address after Feb. 18.

If you’ve moved to the Tampa Bay area from another Florida county, for instance, and don’t get your voter registration updated with your new address by Tuesday, don’t worry. You can still update your address before March 17.

After you’re registered, you can still request a mail-in ballot.

But the deadline to do so has changed for the 2020 election. The last day for voters to request vote-by-mail ballots to be sent to them has been moved from six to 10 days before an election or primary. Voters can still pick up vote-by-mail ballots after that, though. The deadline to return these ballots is no later than 7 p.m. on March 17.

Don’t be confused if your ballot includes someone who suspended their campaign.

While this is not about the deadline to register to vote, we’ve already had a questions about this.

Under Florida law, presidential candidates must officially withdraw their candidacy in Florida by Dec. 9 or else their names will still appear on the presidential preference primary ballot.

Julie Marcus, chief deputy at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, said a vote cast for any name on the ballot, including those that have said they’ve suspended their campaigns, will be counted and included in the official results.

That means Cory Booker and Marianne Williamson and others who ended their campaigns will still be on the presidential preference primary ballots.

Linda Hadley, 57, from St. Petersburg, fills out her paper work while registering to vote Wednesday in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

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