Riverview, Florida. 7:10 am, 29 January 2008. I insert my card into the machine and begin the process. "Florida Property Tax Amendment One." Casting my vote, I press the "Next" icon on the touchscreen, ready now to move on to the "big race" of the day. I actually feel a tingle of excitement as I prepare to vote for a candidate in whom I truly believe. I haven't felt this strongly about a Presidential race since 2000, when I worked for John McCain's campaign in South Carolina... when "Dubya" put the screws to him... and when the fate of this country - my country - was sealed. But today, eight long years later, I am making my voice heard once again, this time as part of a Democratic movement that's all about change. About making it right again. And this vote - my vote - is the first step on the road to Pennsylvania Avenue and finally making right all that is so very wrong.
I'd like to tell you that I pressed that touchscreen again. That I was part of the process. That, win or lose, I did my part. But I can't. I didn't. You see, my voter registration card bears three letters that disqualified me from participating in Florida's Presidential primary. Three little letters that rob me of my voice; that steal my right to affect change in what is arguably the most important phase of the democratic process. My card says "NPA." No Party Affiliation. And because of this, all I can do is sit back and watch helplessly as my candidate loses the race. I suppose I can take some solace in the fact that Florida "doesn't count" this time. Frankly, though, that knowledge affords me precious little comfort. I am outraged.
The closed primary system in Florida - shared by almost half of the United States - restricts participation to registered party members only. The rationale: only a party's membership should be permitted to select that party's standard-bearer for the upcoming election. Furthermore, the point has been made that allowing all voters to choose which party's primary to vote in could lead to unfair skewing of the results. Imagine, in 2004, if Florida Republicans had flooded the Democratic Primary in order to choose the weakest possible candidate to face the GOP incumbent, George W. Bush! (That said, let's not think too much more about Florida's rather checkered past where the current administration is concerned!) I concede that these are valid points, but I still feel strongly that the overriding concern must be that people like me - learned, well-informed potential voters who refuse to swallow hook, line and sinker the ideology of either party - are being unjustly barred from a vital part of the electoral process. Are we to quietly accept our places as political outsiders, and be content in the knowledge that we will be able to make our voices heard come November? By that time, the contest (realistically) will have been whittled down to two candidates - and usually the ones that their respective partisan "Machines" want. Let's face it. The Dems don't want Obama. The GOP doesn't want McCain. But who's to say that if all of us got our fair shake in the voting booth, we might not fly in the face of "The Machines," and nominate the men and women whom we want to see lead our nation? The system is broken.
According to The Florida Division of Elections (statistics as of 5 March 2004), of the 9.3 million registered voters in Florida, only 17% are registered NPA. That's roughly 1.6 million. Let's just say that half of those NPA's voted in today's Democratic Primary, and of that number, 42% voted for Obama, while 23% cast ballots for Hillary Clinton. (I base this admittedly unscientific estimate on Independent/Other voting in South Carolina's primary last Saturday - source: MSNBC.com) At this very moment, Clinton has a lead of 225,802 votes over Obama here in Florida. BUT, factor in the "estimated NPA vote," and the gap narrows to a mere 73,802. Now, perhaps, we've got a race on our hands! At the very least, Obama picks up a few more crucial delegates (if Florida actually had any - but I digress...)
I don't claim to have all the answers. I'm sure there will be plenty of folks out there who read this as a case of sour grapes because my guy didn't win. And perhaps there is a bit of truth in that allegation. But the bottom line is unchanging. The system is broken. And the power to fix it is ours. We simply have to decide to use it.