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The importance of primary elections and why your vote matters

Key takeaways for the upcoming primary election
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Posted at 5:33 AM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 13:41:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida is a closed primary state, meaning you must be a registered democrat or republican to vote for partisan races. But, there are significant non-partisan races you can still cast your ballot in, no matter what party you've registered with.

And, if you want to vote for the partisan races, you can easily change your status.

"Anybody who is not affiliated with a party and wants to vote in a partisan, primary election, it's very easy to change your party," Lori Edwards, Polk County Supervisor of Elections, told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. "You can do it in five minutes or less, and then you can change back right after the election. And that's not discouraged. We want you to participate if you want to participate. The one thing that you need to keep in mind is the books closed for party affiliation 29 days before an election."

That day is July 25, the last day to register to vote for our upcoming August 23 primary.

The primary is often when non-partisan races are decided, not in November.

"County judges are actually elected in the primary, school board members are elected in the primary," Edwards said. "So, if you don't vote in the primary, you may not have an opportunity to make your voice heard on your school board and county judges."

RELATED: Florida voter registration deadlines to mark in your calendar for 2022

Every ballot cast has an impact on our local communities. And several non-partisan races are heating up.

"It's usually things that are very local and very personal," ABC Action News political expert Dr. Susan MacManus said. "Right now, people are very upset about the economy of the country. And in terms of local issues, it depends on where you are, but, across the board, school races are very interesting to a lot of people. Most people that have kids in school are watching the school board races; they're going to be more competitive than we've ever seen."

She continued, "A lot of that's because people during the pandemic got different impressions about what they thought of our school systems. And national polls like Gallup show that a plummeting percentage of Americans have a lot of confidence in our public schools."

According to the Gallup poll MacManus mentioned, confidence in school leadership is becoming more partisan.

According to the poll, public education has become more politicized, with Republicans more opposed than Democrats to distance learning and student face mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Debate has also erupted at the national and local levels over school curricula touching on racism, gender theory, and sexual orientation. Republican-sponsored legislation being passed or debated in numerous states to curtail such curricula has kept these issues at the forefront of party politics, with Florida providing the most prominent example.

The Parental Rights in Education law, or what critics have dubbed the "Don’t Say Gay Bill," took effect in July and prohibits some classroom instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

While Republicans express low confidence in U.S. public schools, education is not on their minds when asked to name the most important problem in the country — only 1% of Republicans in June named education in answer to this open-ended question. Thus, it remains to be seen if concerns about education spur Republicans to the polls in November — or if other issues, from inflation to abortion to guns, are more prominent in influencing whether people vote and how.

"What worries you the most about where our country is heading if people don't believe that their vote matters?" Paluska asked MacManus.

"It's really disturbing to think that people don't have trust in institutions," MacManus said. "Whether it be government, businesses, or any other dimension of our society. It's very sad because if we don't come together at some point, the old saying a house divided against itself cannot stand, and there are a lot of people that think we're getting way too close to that. This is the most polarized, and I'm not the only one that's observed it."

There are also two trends Edwards is watching.

"You can't miss these two trends that I've seen in recent years. One, more people are voting not affiliated with any party, no party affiliation than are registering either Democrat or Republican. It is growing in leaps and bounds," Edwards said. "The other big trend is about half our voters vote in advance of Election Day. They vote by mail. There are convenient early voting sites that are all around the county. And so by the time we turn on the lights early in the morning on election day, at all those polling locations, half the voters have already cast their ballots."

To increase voter turnout, Edwards thinks Florida should change primary elections to September and change Florida from an open primary state.

"I mean, you can't make any better argument for open primaries in Florida than the fact that 1/3 of our voters are not affiliated with a party anymore," Edwards said. "That's a very strong message. And I think that the state's leaders should hear it."