Florida's primaries for the 2018 midterms is on Aug. 28. Political parties will decide the candidates who will represent them on the ballot in November.

If you want to help pick political party candidates for positions ranging from U.S. representative and Florida governor down to county sheriff, you need to be part of a specific party in Florida. That's because Florida is a closed primary state.

What is a primary?

When a political party has multiple candidates for a political office, a primary election is held to pick one person to represent the party.

On Aug. 28, Florida will have political primaries for the following positions:

  • U.S. Senator (Republican primary only)
  • Florida Governor (Republican and Democratic party primaries)
  • Florida Attorney General (Republican and Democratic party primaries)
  • Florida Chief Financial Officer (Republican and Democratic party primaries)
  • Florida Agricultural Commissioner (Republican and Democratic party primaries)
  • U.S. Representative (Depends on the Congressional district)
  • Florida Senate (Depends on the Congressional district)
  • Florida Representative (Depends on the Congressional district)

You can find a list of federal and state candidates on the Florida Division of Elections website.

Also, some counties have local elected positions that are partisan. Sheriff is one. Depending on the county, you may have a party primary for that election on Aug. 28.

Primary elections are considered merely a stepping stone to the general. Think of it like sports tournament brackets: the primaries are the semi-finals. The general election in November is akin to the championship game.

Open Primaries vs. Closed Primaries

As of July 2018, Florida Division of Elections reports there are nearly 3.5 million Florida voters who are not affiliated with any political party ("No Party Affiliation" on registration forms).

If you're one of those voters, you are shut out of any political party primary in August.

Likewise, if you want to vote in a major party primary, but you are a member of a different political party, you can't in Florida.

Florida is one of 11 states in the country where all party primary elections are considered "closed primaries." That means you must be a member of the political party in order to vote in its primary.

Those states are:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Delaware
  3. Florida
  4. Kentucky
  5. Maine
  6. Maryland
  7. Nevada
  8. New Mexico
  9. New York
  10. Oregon
  11. Pennsylvania

Other states have different regulations. In some states, the parties can decide whether they want to close their primary. Other states allow people who don't have a party affiliation already to choose which primary they want to vote in. And some states have completely open primary elections.

If it seems confusing to you, don't feel alone. It's especially confusing for people who are relatively new to a state, or rarely vote.

In 2016, we saw numerous complaints from previously unaffiliated people across the country who wanted to vote in the presidential primaries for the first time, but couldn't because of closed primaries. 

How can I vote in a Florida primary?

In Florida, you can change your party affiliation up to 29 days before an election. Since Florida's midterm primary is set for Aug. 28, that means the deadline to register to vote, or change your party affiliation, is July 30.

If you want to vote in a particular primary, you need to go to your county's elections office and change your voter registration to reflect the party you want to be apart of.

You do not have to stay a party member. After the primary, you can change your voter registration if you want. It will not affect your ability to vote in the general election in November.

We have a list of candidates in our Voting Guide. You can also go to your county elections office to find out what races are happening in your area in August, where you can vote or how to get a mail-in ballot. 

And remember, even if you can't vote in a party primary, you may have non-partisan elections for local office that you can vote in, like school board or county commission races. Again, be sure to check with your county's elections office.

The Universal Primary Loophole

There is a primary election loophole in Florida. If there is an election where all of the candidates for that office belong to a single political party, that primary election becomes an "Universal Election" instead, which means it's open to everyone and may the best candidate win.

An example is in South Florida. Only Democrats are running for U.S. House District 24, incumber Rep. Frederica Wilson and challenger Ricardo De La Fuente. So that election becomes a universal election, and anyone can vote in it.