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South Florida's March Elections Are About More Than Just Picking Presidential Candidates

elections 2020
Courtesy of Charles Zelden, Nova Southeastern University
Charles Zelden, a professor of history and political science at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County, says Floridians should vote in March, even if they do not feel confident their vote will matter.

If you want to vote in the Florida Presidential Preference Primary coming up next month, you have until Tuesday at midnight to register, change your address or switch your party affiliation. 

To update your information or switch your party, contact your Supervisor of Elections Office before the end of day Tuesday. Across South Florida counties, you can check and request to update your information online. Read more here about where you can go to change your information.

In Broward County, there are also municipal elections happening in addition to the presidential primary. Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Lighthouse Point, and Pembroke Pines voters get to vote in mayoral races. (Pembroke Pines also has a city commission race for District 2.) Pompano Beach voters will give input on amendments to the city charter. 

There are also municipal races happening in Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade County, and Monroe County. To vote in these local races, you do not have to be registered with a political party.

To better understand why Florida has early deadlines and the significance of the March presidential preference primary, WLRN spoke with Profesor Charles Zelden. He teaches history and political science at Nova Southeastern University. 

WLRN: What are Florida voters doing in March? What's the role of the March primary ahead of the August primary election and the general election in November? 

Zelden: In March, what we're doing is saying who we believe should be the candidate for each party. Clearly for the Republican Party, that's pretty much been settled already since there's an incumbent. But for the Democratic Party, there's still a number of very viable candidates. Ultimately, the decision as to who runs against the incumbent will be a choice of the voters in each of the 50 states plus Puerto Rico, District of Columbia ... In essence, we get to pick who we want to run against President Trump.  

Why does Florida have a deadline this month, for an election happening next month? 

The way it works is this in order to have voting rolls, in other words, to figure out who is who, who's signed up to vote, you've got to have a deadline prior to the election in which you have to basically say, this is my party and this is how I want to vote for.  

Some states you can register the day of the election, but Florida isn't one of those states. In Florida, it's roughly a month before the the event you have to make sure that you're registered to vote, and you have to make sure that you're registered for the party you want to vote in for the primary. 

Florida has what we called closed primaries. Only members of the Democratic Party can vote for Democratic candidates. Only those in the Republican Party can vote for Republican candidates. Independents may have some options in August in terms of nonpartisan elections or choices, but they won't have any say as to who the candidates of the two parties will be. So if you want to participate and choose a presidential candidate, you need to make sure that you're registered right away. You can do it online, and you need to make sure that you are registered in the party you wish to make a choice in. 

If you have no party identification, if you're what we generically call an independent voter, you won't have a say in the presidential preference primary, nor in the August primaries. 

When it comes to the general election, on the other hand, then everyone can vote whether they have party identification or not. It can get a little confusing, the key is if you want to participate you got to sign up. 

Broward County has a new Supervisor of Elections then it did when there were issues and recounts in 2018. Are you seeing any changes with the new Supervisor (Peter Antonacci) leading up to this years' elections?

What I've seen is that the supervisor of elections has been willing to reach out to anyone who wants to talk to them about these issues.  

The problem we had in 2018 was a combination of bad leadership, administrative incompetence with a lot of votes. And a lot of votes coming at the last minute. That may happen again. Not so much in March, but it's more likely to come again in November. And the key is you've got to be ready for it. And under the old administration, Broward County just wasn't ready when the challenge came. 

Read More: How We Got Here: All Eyes On Broward County's Recount

What should voters, who maybe have lost faith in the process, be on the lookout for?

One thing to do is to make sure that you are registered. If you contact the Supervisor of Elections Office, they can look up and tell you if you are registered to vote and which party you [are] registered to vote for [in] the primaries.

The other thing you need to do is, focus on listening to the candidates themselves speak. Don't necessarily be influenced by stories that you see on social media, but actually go and listen to what the candidates themselves are saying. Usually that will give you a pretty good idea of what they stand for and whether you want to vote for them or not. And and lastly, you need to participate. You need to make the effort to to act, because ultimately democracy depends on us. Democracy doesn't die in darkness. It dies of indifference.  

There may be problems, there often are. There's a lot of people who vote. But - if you don't participate, if you don't put down your preference for presidential candidate, or for primary or in the November election, then that's a way to guarantee your view will not be heard by the government, by politicians, and by the nation as a whole.

Florida's March elections will take place on Tuesday, March 17. Early voting begins on March 7. 

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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