Primary primer: Understanding election "lingo"

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- There are politics and then there are the politics of politics. Yes, you read that right. Even the “rules” of the elections are often alleged to be loopholes in attempts to control the outcome.

With the primary elections around the corner -- voters go to the polls on August 26th -- the way in which Florida law governs both voter registration and the elections themselves can have enormous implications on the outcome of races. Understanding these terms is as important as knowing the candidates and the issues.

First, you have to register to vote. The date to register for primary voting has passed. The general election deadline is October 6th. In Florida, when you register you are asked if you want to designate a party. If you choose one of the number of parties recognized in Florida you are then restricted to voting only in those primaries. Democrats vote in the democrat primary. Republicans vote in the republican primary. Those not registered to a party can vote in “non-partisan” primaries, for example the school board races, where the candidates don’t run under a political party designation or “open” primaries, which are explained below. In open races, a candidate must receive 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate reaches that threshold, there is a run-off between the top two during the general election.

If all candidates in a partisan race are of the same party, it is considered an “open” race. Since there would be no general election opposition, the Florida constitution mandates that primary is open to all voters. One current example are the opposed races for the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Board. While there is opposition to the incumbents, they are all republicans. Which means that the primary races will decide those seats.

Partisan primaries, where only one-party registrants can vote include republican primaries in District 2 and District 4 in the Sarasota County Commission race. Winners will face democratic and/or independent challengers in November. Other examples of partisan primaries in Sarasota County are the Charter Review Board District 1 race which has both a democrat and republican primary and District 5 which has a republican primary.

The county office of the Supervisor of Elections has mailed out sample ballots so you can take a look at the races you eligible to vote in pursuant to your voter registration. You can also go to the Supervisors website to take a look at each race on the ballot.

Finally, Florida law gives you various options to vote. You can vote in person in your precinct which you can find online, by calling the Supervisor of Elections office at or on your voter registration card. You can vote absentee, otherwise known as by mail. Finally, there are also early voting options. All of the information and timelines for each of these can be found online as well.

Voting is our right. Knowing and understanding how the voting process works makes us even more educated voters! Happy elections!