Surrendering the power of the vote

07/15/2014 6:48 PM

07/16/2014 1:17 PM

The July 6 article Big surge in no-party voters could reshape Florida notes the growth of new Florida voters who register with No Party Affiliation (NPA).

Of the approximately 500,000 newly registered voters since 2010, an astoundingly high percentage — 90 percent — registered as NPA.

At the same time, the size of the two major parties remained relatively stagnant.

Some have applauded the growth of NPA as a sign of voter independence and sophistication.

Others point to the growth in NPAs as evidence of voter disgust with the partisan bickering that has led to government gridlock.

It may be both, but it is also a sign that voters are diluting the power of their voice, which is the power of their vote.

In Florida, who our legislative and congressional representatives will be is something that is too frequently settled on the day of the filing deadline or in a party primary.

This is happening because political parties too often do not contest incumbent legislative or congressional seats or do not field experienced, attractive and well-funded candidates. In many cases, this is because the lines have been drawn to make it so that districts are not contestable.

Along with the plentiful sunshine and warm weather, we also live in one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. Despite the new Fair Districts rules on redistricting, the politicians who draw the legislative and congressional district lines have done their best to draw district lines to create safe seats for members of their party.

That the nation’s largest swing state and a state so closely divided along political and ideological lines has so few competitive legislative and congressional races is no accident. It is a tribute to competent politically-inspired and gerrymandered map making!

With more districts that have been drawn to be safe for one party or the other, when voters do have a choice of who will represent them in Tallahassee or Washington, it will be in a political party’s primary election.

And, except in those cases in which the winner of a primary will have no opposition in the general election, the primary will be open to all voters.

Those who register with No Party Affiliation are barred from participating in a political party’s primary.

So, whether it is an increasing independence and sophistication of the voter or increasing disgust with the major parties, it needs to be understood that the decision to register as an NPA comes with the price of surrendering the power of your vote – the right to vote in a primary which, in Florida, is often the real election that will decide who will represent you.

Howard Simon, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, Miami

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