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Information for Florida Voters

Get all your information on candidates and election issues on-line in one spot from our E-Voter. The E-Voter is published prior to every Okaloosa County municipal, primary and general election. When it’s published, the link will be posted prominently on our home page. [NOTE: Walton County is included in Primary and General Election E-Voters, because it does not have its own local League.]

Get other information on elections, voting and voter registration at Vote411.org and BeReadytoVote.org. To study up on what happened in the 2014 general election, check out the 2014 Post Election Survey published by the Overseas Vote Foundation and U.S. Vote Foundation. We will link to the 2016 survey as soon as it becomes available.

You can also see how well Florida election systems stack up by checking out Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Election Preparedness. The Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Rights Clinic and Common Cause surveyed states’ voting equipment and ranked the states from worst to best (inadequate, needs improvement, generally good, good and excellent) in five areas related to their preparedness for the 2012 general election. (Spoiler Alert) Florida ranked #29 with a “generally good” overall rating. Since then Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux replaced all our county voting equipment prior to the 2016 election season. Check out the full report.

Election Basics

How does a bill become law in Florida?
What is a primary?
What is a caucus?
What is the Electoral College?

How a Bill Becomes a Law in Florida

Either house may originate any type of legislation, however the processes differ slightly between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

A legislator sponsors a bill, which is referred to one or more committees related to the bill’s subject. The committee studies the bill and decides if it should be amended, pass, or fail. If passed, the bill moves to other committees of reference or to the full house. The full house then votes on the bill.

If a bill passes in one house, it is sent to the other house for review. A bill goes through the same process in the second house as it did in the first. A bill can go back and forth between house and senate until a consensus is reached. Of course, the measure could fail at any point in the process.

The following excerpts on Primaries and Caucuses are from Choosing the President 2008.

Primary Education: What is a Primary?

In a presidential primary election, voters go to the polls to choose among a party’s presidential candidates—or among would-be delegates who have pledged to support specific candidates at the party’s national convention. Primaries were conceived early in the twentieth century as one way to take power away from the “party machines” and give the people a role in the nominating process.

Primaries are run differently in different states. In some states, voters mark the candidate they prefer, and delegates to the convention are allocated depending on the popular vote. This is often referred to as a direct presidential preference primary. In other cases, voters see the names of the delegates on their ballot, and the delegates are identified as preferring a certain candidate or as uncommitted. This is known as an indirect presidential preference primary.

In some cases, the primary is “binding;” that is, the delegate promises to vote for the candidate to whom he or she is pledged, at least on the first ballot at the convention. In other states, the rules are less strict.

In addition, some primaries are “winner-take-all,” so that whichever candidate receives the most popular votes gets all the state’s delegates. Much more common is the “proportional representation” primary, where delegates are awarded roughly in proportion to the percentage of the popular vote won. A candidate who gets 20% of the vote, for example, will win about 20% of the state’s delegates. All Democratic primaries follow the proportionality principle.

Florida is a closed primary election state. That means only voters who are registered members of a political party (usually either Democrats or Republicans) may vote in that party’s primary election for partisan candidates. Registered minor political party voters and voters who register without a party affiliation are not eligible to vote for major party candidates in a primary election. However, if all candidates for an office in an election have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified voters—regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof—may vote in the primary election. All registered voters may also vote on ballot initiatives, referendums and non-partisan candidates regardless of party affiliation.

A list of all political parties registered in Florida is available at the Division of Elections’ website.

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A Primary Alternative: What’s a Caucus?

In 2016, the majority of delegates for both major parties will be chosen by primaries. States that don’t hold primaries generally convene caucuses as a way to get voters involved in selecting the party nominees. A caucus is a gathering of voters from the same party at the precinct level; a precinct is the smallest electoral district within a county. Caucuses tend to attract no more than 10% of the eligible voters, while primaries often get 20% or more.

Caucuses can be a neighborly experience, with people from an area meeting and talking about the merits of the different candidates. In some states, that experience is considered valuable and worth keeping, even though caucuses may seem old-fashioned in the 21st century.

Participants in a caucus vote on party platforms and policies and select delegates to the next-higher-level party convention. There may be two or three higher levels, including district or county and state. In a caucus state, all those who want to represent their state at one of the national conventions must first win election as a convention delegate at one of the caucuses.

Caucuses generally occur at a set time and date in locations throughout the state; thousands of caucus meetings can be happening all at once. Party rules require caucus dates, times, and locations to be publicized well in advance so voters can plan to attend. The conventional wisdom is that caucuses are won by the best-organized candidates—those who are able to mobilize large numbers of loyal supporters to attend the caucus meetings.

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What is the Electoral College?

Adapted from a pamphlet published by the League of Women Voters Education Fund in 1980.

Every four years the Electoral College, a little known feature of our Constitution, enjoys a fleeting moment of fame. About six weeks after the long grind of the presidential election is over, the 538 members of the college meet in their respective states to perform their sole constitutional function: to elect the President and Vice-President of the United States.

But the impact of the college on presidential elections is far greater—and more controversial—than its brief life indicates. For example, many knowledgeable observers of American politics attribute the predominance of two major parties to the winner-take-all feature of the college’s state-based system. In all but two states (Maine and Nebraska), the losing candidates get no electors, whether they got two votes or two million. As a result, small parties and less well known candidates seldom have had a chance to affect the outcome of an election directly. The usual effect of so-called “third-party” candidates is to take away votes from one major party candidate in a close race, tipping the results to the other major party candidate. But if a third or fourth candidate does manage to carry at least one state or some electoral votes (and that has happened in four elections since 1900) then he or she may have a huge impact, partly because the House of Representatives gets to choose the President (and the Senate, the Vice-President) if the Electoral College can’t produce an absolute majority.

How It Works

Americans choose their President in a complicated series of steps that have evolved from Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, through various amendments, federal and state laws, political party rules and traditions. The Constitution authorizes each state to appoint a number of electors equal to the number of representatives and senators the state has in Congress. The Twenty-Third Amendment added three electors for the District of Columbia, taking the college to 538 members.

On election day, voters in each state cast their ballots for the slate of presidential electors who are pledged to support the candidate the voter prefers. These slates have been selected by political parties through conventions, committees or primaries. In some states only the names of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates appear on the ballot, masking the fact that voters are choosing electors rather than voting directly for the candidates. In the other states, both candidates and electors are identified.

The winning slate of electors meets in the each state on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December, a date set by federal statute. Two ballots are taken, with each elector casting one vote for the President and one for the Vice-President. Electors almost always vote for the candidates to whom they have been pledged, but the Constitution does not bind them to do so. In fact, an independent elector is what the Framers had in mind when they first designed the college (see below: Why the Framers Set Up the Electoral College). However, more than half of the states have enacted laws binding electors.

Results of the mid-December vote in each state are sent to Congress to be counted on January 6, in the presence of the newly elected Senate and House of Representatives. If one candidate for the office of President (and one candidate for the office of Vice-President) gets 270 votes—a majority of the total numbers of 538 electors—a President has been elected.

If no candidate is assured of a majority of electors’ votes after the November election, the period from the general election to the December vote of the Electoral College may become a time of intense political horse-trading. A candidate who has only a few electoral votes may use those votes as bargaining chips with other candidates in exchange for influence over their policies and appointments.

Election in the House and Senate

The Twelfth Amendment clarifies the procedures for so-called “contingent elections”—those that are thrown into the House and Senate for lack of an Electoral College majority.

The following rules regulate the House’s choice of the President:

  • Only the top three vote getters in the electoral college are to be considered.
  • Regardless of its population and number of representatives, each state delegation in the House has only one vote, for a total of 50 votes. The District of Columbia, which sends a nonvoting delegate to the House, has no vote.
  • The state’s choice is determined by a vote within its delegation. If that vote is a tie, the state loses its vote.
  • A winning candidate must receive the votes of at least 26 states. There is no limit to the number of ballots in the House. If the House fails to choose a President by Inauguration Day, January 20, the Twentieth Amendment requires that the Vice-President-elect, provided that the Senate has chosen one, serves as President until the House makes it choice. The Senate follows these rules in its selection of the Vice-President:
  • The choice is between the top two vice-presidential vote-getters in the Electoral College.
  • Each senator has one vote, for a total of 100 votes (no vote for the District of Columbia).
  • A Vice-President must be elected by at least 51 votes.

If the Senate also fails to elect a Vice-President, the Succession Act of 1948 provides that the Speaker of the House shall act as President until a President is chosen. The law was enacted under authority given to the Congress by the Twentieth Amendment.

Although the procedures for the way the House and Senate vote are set by the Constitution, members of Congress are free to vote as they please within their state’s delegation. Under these circumstances it’s conceivable that the House might select a President of one party and the Senate, a Vice-President of the other.

The Electoral College: Pros and Cons

Opponents of the college call it undemocratic. They say it functions in contradiction to the one-person, one-vote principle, by giving each state at least three votes, even though some states might be entitled to only one or two on a straight population basis. If the choice of President goes to the House of Representatives, where each state has only one vote, the election becomes even further removed from the equality-of-population principle. Critics point out that in a contingent election, the single representative from the least populous state has a vote that carries over 50 times more weight than that of a representative from the state of California, the most populous state, with the largest number of representatives. There are seven states with only one representative.

Supporters argue that the principle of one-person, one-vote should not pertain to the Electoral College, just as it does not pertain to the U.S. Senate. They point out that the college was designed to underscore the federal nature of the U.S. government. The college, they argue, recognizes and embodies the delicate balance between the powers of the states and the powers of the central government. Other supporters believe that the apparent bias toward the small states may not be real. Because of the winner-take-all rule, a small margin of victory in California, New York, Illinois or Texas gets a much larger block of electoral votes than could be won by a large popular majorities in any number of small states.

Critics charge that the Electoral College is complicit in the suppression of minority rights and allows a dangerous possibility: the election of a President who has not won in the popular vote. The possibility became fact in the 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016 elections. The election of a President who received less than a popular vote plurality is perceived by some critics as a potential constitutional crisis of the first magnitude, an outcome that would not be acceptable to the American people—and yet they have accepted it, five times.

On the other hand, supporters of the college assert that it has worked adequately for 58 presidential elections. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is their rallying cry. Those who think the college has functioned well and will continue to do so assert that the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000—and now 2016—were statistical anomalies.

Why the Framers Set Up the Electoral College

“It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of [the President]. This end will be answered by committing the right of making [the choice] not to any pre-established body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, No. 68


Review the League position on the Election of the President here.

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