Florida Republicans Hit the Polls Early


Jacksonville, Fla.—Why does Florida, the fourth largest state in the union, have only 50 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday's Republican primary? Quite simply, the state crossed the powers that be. Florida violated the rules passed by the Republican National Committee that require Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to be the first four states to vote in the nominating contest and was therefore stripped of half of its delegates. If Florida had followed the rules the state would be sending 100 delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa this August. 

The official GOP critiera for determining how many delegates each state gets at the convention are pretty complex. You can read all of it here

If the primary drags on can we expect a fight over the reinstatement of Florida's delegates?

Possibly, though after last night's debate it is increasingly difficult to see how there could be a brokered convention in Tampa. This race would need to maintain its intensity well beyond March 6's Super Tuesday vote for the reinstatement issue to be raised in the same forcefull way it was back in 2008 on the Democratic side. In that race, delegates were so precious that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Of course, history also tells us that the threat of reduced delegate numbers goes out the window after it becomes clear who the nominee is going to be. In 2008, both parties reinstated Florida's delegates, ensuring that they would get access to the convention floor, voting rights, and, of course, crucial hotel space.   

Meanwhile, Florida Republicans have been busy since last Saturday voting for their preferred candidate. Florida has been doing this early voting thing mostly problem free since 2004 and this year's process comes to a close on Saturday afternoon. Over 32 states allow some variation of early voting. In Florida it means you can vote anywhere in your county as many as 10 days but no fewer than two days before the election. In addition, the Sunshine State also allows for "no questions asked" absentee voting. Unlike my native Massachusetts, where county government is nearly non-existent, Florida's county governments handle all election activity.

While Florida makes it very convenient for people to vote, there are still roadblocks when you get to the actual polling station. There was an army of poll workers at the two voting stations I visited in Ponce de León's old stomping grounds of St. Augustine. Outside of every voting station in Florida is a sentry known as a poll deputy. He is usually a retired law enforcement agent and it is his job to make sure no funny business goes on outside the polling place. Next up is an inspector who asks questions but seems mostly to act as a second line of defense against voter fraud. 

Once you make it past these guardians of democracy you have to show some form of ID to get your actual ballot. Fortunately for would-be voters, many forms of ID are acceptable for voting purposes in Florida.

"It's easier to manage people over an eight day period rather than managing all of those people on one day. It's so much easier," said Vicky Oakes, supervisor of elections for St. John's County. Oakes described the early voter turnout this year as "good so far."