This week, Florida voters will head to the polls to select their primary nominations for every seat from County Commission to Florida Governor and U.S Senate. But of the near-13 million registered voters, just over 25 percent will not be able to participate. These voters are Florida’s Non-Party Affiliated (NPA) voters, who are locked out by Florida’s closed primary system, which prevents voters who are not registered with a party from voting in that party’s primary.
But as political polarization and disaffection with the two-party system rise, the closed-primary system is failing to include an important portion of Florida’s registered voter population.
A distinct complaint about the closed primary is its penchant for driving political polarization. Candidates spend months selling themselves on the most hardline positions they support to appeal to the most active and energetic portions of their bases.
For example, Adam Putnam (R), a candidate for governor in Florida, has drawn significant attention to himself for ads painting him as an “NRA sellout” who fiercely supports President Donald Trump.
Prior to this, Putnam was widely known as a moderate, who had endorsed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary election and criticized then-candidate Trump. In the post-Parkland era, this kind of messaging tends to flame division.
Moreover, Putnam will likely be faced with the decision to either not discuss guns or flip flop on his position in order to appeal to moderates in the general election, should he win his primary.
Closed primaries also have the two-fold effect of disenfranchising voters who do not find any specific party appealing as well as empowering existing parties.
People who are frustrated with the establishment have little power to influence its structures or the candidates who are elected to it if they can’t choose who survives a partisan primary.
Florida is famous for being a purple state. Florida’s NPA vote is a major factor in state being a swing state. Neither of Florida’s political parties hold a majority of the registered voters in the state and our NPA vote is important in that.
To some extent, it is not unreasonable to say that parties should have autonomy in choosing their nominees. Outside forces could corrupt the selection of a true party representative and also have a disenfranchising effect on the people involved. There is also a fair argument that alternatives, like the jungle primary system used in California, does little to improve partisanship especially in cases where only party’s candidates emerges in the general election.
As a nation, but especially as a state that many moderates and independent voters call home, we need to do better. We need to find an alternative to the closed primary that helps Washington and more local politics listen to all voters, not just the ones in their party.
Aida Vazquez-Soto is senior majoring in political science and economics.