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Cerabino: Florida voter finally gets to make her declaration of independence

When Karen Milstein moved to Florida from Virginia she considered herself an independent voter.

“I didn’t want to have all this junk coming in the mail from the Republicans and Democrats,” she said. “I wanted to vote with my brain.”

And so for the past 20 years, this 62-year-old romance novelist in suburban West Palm Beach had imagined that she had no party affiliation.

Until she recently got a letter in the mail. It said that her party, The Independent Party of Florida, had been dissolved.

“How can you be an independent and also belong to a political party?” she asked me. “Is this some kind of Florida thing?”

Milstein, I suspect, is one of many Floridians who have recently learned that while imagining themselves as being free of party labels, they have actually belonged to the third largest political party in Florida.

“And now, they’re telling me I can join the Independence Party of Florida,” she said.

Yes, there is an Independence Party of Florida, which should not be confused with the recently disbanded Independent Party of Florida.

It’s a little bit like that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, when the members of the People’s Front of Judea are irked to be misidentified as members of the Judean People’s Front.

The Independent Florida of Party is an outgrowth of businessman H. Ross Perot’s run for president in 1992. The Independence Party of Florida is something eight people in the Tampa area started seven years later.

Both parties have grown over the years. But maybe, to some extent, by accident.

When Milstein and others like her registered to vote, they didn’t realize that saying they were independents could be taken different ways. And some ended up being put down as a party member of the Independent Party of Florida, rather than somebody who is independent with a lower case “i,” and of no party affiliation.

And so now there are more than 262,000 registered members of the Independent Party of Florida. Or, at least, there were.

In February, the Florida Election Commission revoked its party status because — now, get this — the Independent Party of Florida’s last audit was done by an accountant, not a certified public accountant, as required.

That’s another one of those Florida things, Mrs. Milstein.

And so now, supervisors of elections in all of Florida’s 67 counties have been instructed to mail notifications to all the registered members of the Independent Party of Florida to inform them that the party some of them didn’t even know they belonged to is no longer valid.

As you might imagine, this isn’t sitting well with the Independent Party of Florida, which sees its dismantling on a technicality as nothing more than a dirty trick to stem to tide of voters who don’t want to be associated with the two main political parties.

“This is another form of voter suppression,” wrote Ernie Bach, the state chairman of the Independent Party of Florida. “All voters should be aware that we already have a slate of viable candidates who will be filing to run as Independents in the 2018 elections on all levels; local state and national, which will offer our independent voters a third and meaningful choice.”

The party has applied for a restoration of its status.

If successful, it will be interesting to see how many former party members will be like Milstein, happy to be reassigned as an NPA — No Party Affiliation — voter.

“The elections office gave me a list of about eight other parties I can join,” Milstein said. “But I’m an independent. I don’t want to join any of them.”

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