Florida is a closed primary state: What that means for all voters this August election

Party primaries are for party members, but there is something for everyone in the Aug. 23 election

FILE - In this March 17, 2020 file photo, voters head to a polling station to vote in Florida's primary election in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) (John Raoux, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida’s primary elections are on Aug. 23. The election will have something for everyone – Democrats, Republicans, no party affiliates, third party members.

There will be races open to all voters, such as, judgeships and school board races, regardless of party affiliation. Some counties also have commission seats up for election that are nonpartisan.

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However, if you want to make your voice heard in a specific party primary, you need to be a member of that party.

That’s because Florida is a closed primary state.

Primary elections happen when a political party has more than one candidate running for the same office.

For instance, in the race for Florida governor, there are several candidates running to be the Democratic Party nominee. That means there will be a Democratic primary to determine who will be the one Democrat to appear on the ballot for governor in the November General Election.

In some states, you don’t have to be a member of a party to vote in the primary. That’s not the case in Florida. Democrats vote in Democratic primaries, Republicans in Republican primaries, and so on.

Still, if you want to vote in a specific party primary, you just change your party affiliation.

You can do this up to 29 days before any election. That’s July 25 for the August primary.

To change your party affiliation, go to RegistertoVoteFlorida.gov and update your voter registration information.

You will need a Florida drivers license or state ID to do so. If you don’t have one, you can print out a paper application and mail it to your county supervisor of elections office.

What does a closed primary mean for voters? It means some elections are only for party members this August, but there are lots of races for people who are not with a political party.

Why it matters

Say you live in a district where the majority of voters lean toward one political party over another. An incumbent is facing a party primary, and whoever wins that primary will face candidates that are not likely to win given the district’s demographics.

Being able to vote in the primary gives you more of a say over who will take that political office.

A good example is the 2020 election for Orange-Osceola state attorney. The race had a crowded field of Democrats and one lesser-known No Party Affiliate candidate. The odds were pretty good a Democrat was going to win in the general election, given the demographics in the two counties.

Monique Worrell won the Democratic primary for Orange-Osceola state attorney and went on to win the general election.

Only Democratic voters got to pick which candidate would face the NPA candidate in November, and likely win the general election.

If an election is important to you, you may want to choose a political party before the primary in order to have more of a say.

The loophole

Some party primaries have no other challengers. That means they're open to all voters. Check your ballot to make sure you don't have a universal primary.

There is a way to open a party primary to all voters.

If you have an election where only people from one political party have decided to run for an office, the election becomes open to every voter. This is called a universal primary.

The winner of this universal primary wins the office they were campaigning for.

This happens occasionally with state legislature or county seats.

But there is a loophole that closes a primary: get a write-in candidate to run for that election.

It costs a write-in candidate nothing to run, their name doesn’t even go on the ballot. But since there is a candidate with a different political affiliation in the race, there will be no universal primary, only primaries open to political party members only.

This tactic has been used by some factions to close voters out of elections. As Orange County supervisor of elections Bill Cowles pointed out two years ago, statistically, write-in candidates don’t win in county, state or federal elections, and many even drop out of the race before election day.

There have been several reports in recent years where write-in candidates with ties to a party candidate will run, thus insulating that candidate from the wider community of voters with a closed primary race.

“We’ve seen more of it being used as a political tool in different ways than a legitimate candidate who is seriously working to win the seat,” Cowles told News 6 in 2020.

Despite calls over the last few years to close the write-in loophole, Florida lawmakers have not taken the issue up.

Again, if you wish to vote in a party primary this August, you have until July 25 to change your party affiliation. Head to Register to Vote Florida.gov to update your registration.

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.