Margaret Zartman joined the Constitution Party of Florida out of frustration more than a decade ago when she felt leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties were drifting away from principles established by the country’s founding fathers.
So with a bit of research she discovered the Constitution Party, which calls for curtailing the federal government, repealing national firearms legislation, eliminating the federal role in education and a strong support for property rights.
“For me it was about my right to bear arms,” said Zartman, 52, of Winter Springs, who is among a small number of registered voters in Central Florida registered with a handful of little-known parties. “And I think that most people don’t realize that there are other political parties besides Democrat and Republican out there.”
During Tuesday’s primary, residents registered with minor parties will have little to vote on because most races are party contests between Democrats or Republicans.
Mainstream politics don’t appeal to Zartman or her husband and fellow Constitution Party member, David, 47, a former Libertarian. They aren’t alone.
Of the state’s 12.4 million registered voters, nearly 3 percent — or about 335,000 — are registered with the nine minor political parties recognized in Florida, according to state records. In Central Florida, that includes roughly 34,300 voters. Those numbers have stayed roughly the same over the past decade.
Besides the Constitution Party, other minor parties include America’s Party, Ecology Party, Green Party, Independence Party, Independent Party, Libertarian Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Reform Party of Florida.
Even so, that’s just a fraction of the state’s nearly 3 million voters — about 23.6 percent of the total electorate — who registered with no party affiliation.
“I think people who join the minority parties are those who feel frustration with the two main political parties and do some research and they become aware that there is a party that is compatible with their political concerns or political beliefs,” Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles said.
Years ago, voters had an abundance of choices at the ballot box when the state became flooded with minor political parties — including the Real Food Party of the United States of America, Surfers Party of America, the Florida Pirate Party and the Objectivist Party.
But in 2012, the Legislature set up stricter guidelines for starting a political party, including that political parties must show how officers, delegates and presidential electors are selected. The parties also must have a working website and keep financial records showing contributions and expenditures.
The new rules were enacted shortly after Josue Larose of Deerfield Beach set up 40 or so minor parties at once before the 2010 election, with names such as the American Billionaires Political Party, American Bourgeoisie Political Party, the American Film Stars Political Party, American Imperialists Political Party, American Music Stars Political Party, and the American Corporate Chief Executive Officers Political Party.
Cara Campbell of Fort Lauderdale helped start the Ecology Party of Florida in 2007 and today it has about 280 registered voters statewide, more than double from four years ago .
“We felt that the environment was getting short shrift” from other political parties, said Campbell, 58.
But as everything in life, things come and go, including political parties. And many have fizzled away from the political landscape because of lack of voter enthusiasm, including the Whig Party, the Federalist Party and even the Tea Party.
The Reform Party, for example, took off in 1995 after being founded by Ross Perot, who had run for president as an independent three years earlier. Tens of thousands of voters at that time subscribed to the party’s principles of a balanced federal budget, opposition to free-trade agreements, congressional term limits and campaign finance reform.
This year, the Reform Party — with about 1,400 registered voters in Florida — nominated businessman Rocky de la Fuente as its presidential candidate. He is also running for the Democratic nomination in Florida for the U.S. Senate.
Donna Shankle of Dunnellon, who serves as the party’s vice chairman in Florida, admits the Reform Party has seen better days.
“When I came on board with Ross Perot, there were thousands of us involved,” Shankle, 83, said. “But we’ve dwindled down….But people are still sick and tired of the status quo; of politics as usual.”
Today’s two main parties have survived for a long time, said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.
“It’s the funny thing about parties is that the Republicans and Democrats have been surprisingly resilient,” Jewett said. “But you just never know. Some people are talking that the Republican Party is actually cracking up under Donald Trump.”
So is it a “wasted vote” casting a ballot for a minority party candidate since it’s unlikely that candidate will win?
“It’s not a wasted vote at all,” Jewett said. “A voter is expressing their displeasure.”
Richard Carpenter, a psychologist from Tampa, agreed. He joined the Green Party of Florida about eight years ago after ringing doorbells for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and later becoming angered by the president’s lack of action in prosecuting white-collar criminals during the financial crisis.
“I often hear the classic argument that I have to hold my nose and vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Carpenter, 69. “But I don’t think people are going to do that this year. I’ve been paying attention to politics for 60 plus years and I never have seen this level of cynicism, disgust, suspicion that there is today.”
Author: Martin E. Comas
Publisher: Orlando Sentinel
Date: September 2, 2016