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  1. Florida Politics

Bousquet column: No-party-affiliation voters surge in numbers across Florida

Published Mar. 17, 2015

For a growing number of Florida voters, the party's over.

They don't want to be Republicans and they don't want to be Democrats. But they could be a potent political force in Florida if they would get out and vote.

The latest statewide data show that nearly 27 percent of Florida's 12 million voters are registered to vote with neither major party.

The vast majority, more than 2.8 million people, are known as "NPAs" who are registered with no party affiliation, and a small percentage belong to minor parties such as the Libertarian Party of Florida.

These antiparty voters now outnumber Democrats or Republicans in 11 counties. Elections supervisors who track voting trends have seen this coming for a long time.

After the latest figures were posted on tampabay.com Monday, one of Florida's reddest counties took note. Pensacola-area Supervisor of Elections David Stafford tweeted: "Since 1995, NPA/3rd party combo is up 300% as share of electorate in Escambia: 5.25% to 21%."

Unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans in the state's three most-populous counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, making the GOP virtually a third party in South Florida.

This would be a bigger deal, except for a couple of factors.

First, unaffiliated voters appear less likely to vote than Republicans or Democrats because no party is bombarding them with mail and phone calls, reminding them to vote at election time.

Second, Florida is a "closed primary" state. Only Republicans and Democrats can vote in their party's primaries unless the other party has no candidate for that office, but either party can close the primary by putting up a token write-in candidate.

These untethered voters will grumble about the quality of their choices on a general election ballot. But when they registered to vote and rejected both major parties, they gave up their chance to influence the nominating process under the state's closed system.

In a primary, NPA voters can pick candidates for judges and nonpartisan races for school boards and obscure special districts, but that's about it, and the Republican Party, which controls state politics and elections laws, wants to keep it that way.

Fourteen states allow all voters to vote in primaries. Democratic lawmakers have filed bills this session to make Florida the 15th open primary state.

"Not only do I want them voting, I want them voting for my candidates," said state Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant.

It won't happen. The chairman of the Florida GOP tells people it's a mistake to register as an independent.

"When you lose your party registration in this state, you lose your voice in the primary," says Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, the new Republican chairman. "When people think that either party doesn't represent what they believe in, it's sort of a mini-revolt."

This mini-revolt recently spread to Clay and St. Johns counties, where the combined total of NPA and minor-party voters now outnumbers Democrats. Three more counties — Charlotte, Martin and Monroe — are not far behind.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.