The new Republicans: Influx of affliation changes for Florida GOP primary

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The countdown to the Florida Republican presidential preference primary has begun, and some Southwest Floridians are doing whatever it takes to make sure their voices are heard.

Florida is a closed primary state, which means only registered Republicans can vote. But election officials said Thursday they saw an influx of voters switching their party affiliation in the month leading up to the Jan. 31 primary.

Timothy Durham, chief deputy elections supervisor for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, said 1,015 voters changed their party affiliation since Dec. 1.

The Lee County Supervisor of Elections reported a higher number of changes — 4,618 voters changed party — during that same time frame.

The deadline to change party affiliation to vote in the Republican presidential primary was Tuesday.

The most common change in both counties was from no party affiliation to Republican: 420 Collier voters and 405 Lee voters made the switch.

Several hundred voters who identify themselves as Democrats also made the switch in the past month. That flip accounted for about 261 people in Collier and 324 people in Lee.

There are 170,838 registered voters in Collier County, according to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website, and the total number of voters switching their registration marks a 0.5 percent change.

The number of voters switching their voter affiliation marks a 1 percent change in Lee County, which has 363,050 registered voters, according to the Lee County Supervisor of Elections website.

Those voters can switch their affiliation for the next election.

"It's very typical," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "There's been a lot of excitement surrounding the Republican field and ... a lot of Floridians have been alerted to the fact that our state is going to matter."

Durham said the total number of changes mirrors the one in advance of the 2008 presidential primary. But in 2008 the no party affiliation switch was split between the established parties because "Democrats were also choosing their nominee."

"Proportionately, far fewer Democrats changed to Republican," Durham said in an email Thursday about the 2008 numbers. "Proportionately, a much greater number of Republicans changed to Democrat."

But MacManus said while a popular narrative is that people are changing their party affiliation to disrupt the normal process, that isn't usually the case.

"The thinking is if I'm a Democrat and I want (President Barack) Obama to win, I want to help the Republicans to nominate the people easiest (to beat)," she said. "While it makes a great discourse in the political circus and the news media, it is not a large (number of people)."

Instead most people change their affiliation because they identify with a candidate and want their voice to be heard, said Peter Bergerson, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Bergerson said a switch could help some candidates.

"Some people are going to feel strongly about Ron Paul ... and people who want to vote for him (may have to) switch their party affiliation," he said. "There may also be people who just don't like one of the front running Republicans ... or they do like them. There's always that."

Bergerson said the number of people swapping party affiliations likely won't be enough to sway the vote come Jan. 31.

"Is it going to be large enough to determine the outcome? Probably not," he said. "You're going to see it, but I don't think it's going to be the story on Feb. 1."

Connect with Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco.

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Comments » 1

wardpo writes:

The reason several of us switched was to vote for the biggest slimeball the Rethugs have. Hopefully the crud will rise to the top and he will get smoked by the Dems. come November. I think you're reporter needs to do a more dilligent research job.

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