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Poll: Independent voters left out of the Florida primary are engaged and want to be included

As Florida voters head to the polls on Tuesday, an estimated 3.2 million registered voters -- about 27 percent of the 12.3 million total -- are shut out of influencing Florida's choice.

Independent or unaffiliated voters in Florida are not eligible to vote in the 2016 presidential primary -- unless they decided months ago to switch their voter affiliation and join one of the two dominant parties, and then vote in the partisan contests on March 15.

According to a poll of conducted by Open Primaries, a non-partisan advocacy group seeking to open presidential primaries, 88 percent of Florida’s independents believe that their exclusion in Florida's closed primary system is unfair, and 88 percent said they are independent because neither party represents them.

"Independent voters do not believe they should be required to perjure themselves, to lie and distance themselves, from who they are in order to vote,'' said John Opdycke, president of Open Primaries, which conducted the poll. 

The poll of 428 independent voters also undercuts common assumptions about independents -- that they are disengaged with the elections process or don't care.  It found that 95 percent of Florida’s independent voters want to focus on good candidates and the issues, not parties.

In fact, 87 percent of Florid'a's independents support structural changes to open statewide primaries to make them more inclusive. 

"They actually care about policy and they care about leadership more than they care about a party,'' Opdycke said. "That's exactly the kind of people we need to be involving right now given the state of American politics."

The poll, a bit dated in today's terms, was conducted Jan. 5, 2016 - Jan. 30, 2016, using a phone survey. The full survey findings can be found on the Open Primaries website.

Opdycke said that about half the primaries in the nation have some form of open system and half -- like Florida - do not. In states with open primaries, such as New Hampshire, voters overwhelmingly supported the nominee, he said.

"Independents are completely propelling Bernie Sanders' campaign -- without them he has 5 delegates,'' he said. And Donald Trump is also "getting a good deal of support from independents."

Independents "overwhelmingly" supported the first election of President Obama, he said. "These are voters who want to move things forward, to change the political culture."

He believes this cycle the electorate is expressing its displeasure with the parties, their structure, and their control of the status quo and that's "both scary and exciting."

The movement to open primaries has also started in Florida. The All Voters Vote amendment failed to get enough signatures for the 2016 ballot but is hoping to reach voters in 2018. Under the proposal, all registered voters would be allowed to vote in primaries for congressional and state partisan offices regardless of the party affiliation of the voters or the candidates.

The candidate who receives the most votes and the runner-up would advance to the general election. In state elections, the candidate who gets more than 50 percent of votes in the primary wins the election.

Glenn Burhans, chair of All Voters Vote effort, said the Open Primaries' poll is "further confirmation that independent voters are unhappy with a system that excludes them from voting in elections that matter."

"The bottom line here is our election system has been designed by the political parties for the political parties,'' Opdycke said. "They're designed to give party insiders maximal control over who participates in their primaries."

He believes the party system is rooted in the theory that today's politics evolves around predictability: politicians -- no matter the party -- "want to know who is going to be voting in their primary on primary day and, if they can restrict voting to that to a group of predictable voters, they are most happy."