TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As primary voters began heading to the polls Friday for early voting, there were about 450,000 more Democrats than Republicans eligible to cast ballots in Florida, according to state Division of Elections figures.
Both of the major parties recorded a decline in their overall numbers during the past two years, and the Democrats' advantage over Republicans continued to shrink. The advantage had already decreased from 612,000 voters in 2010 to 535,000 in 2012.
Meanwhile the overall number of voters stands at 11.8 million, down 126,939 since the 2012 presidential contest, when voter interest is typically higher.
But while the numbers of Democrats and Republicans has decreased, the number of no-label voters has grown by 142,835 since the 2012 general election, the last time statewide voter numbers were released.
Department of State spokeswoman Brittany Lesser placed the main cause of the lowered registration totals on the "routine maintenance" of voter rolls by county supervisors of elections, which includes removing inactive voters.
Kevin Wagner, an associate professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.
"(President) Obama's rise in 2008 boosted Democratic numbers, his lower popularity has hurt Democrats in more-recent years," Wagner said in an email. "It is important not to judge the effectiveness and importance of a party just by one year's registration numbers as they do move around."
On the last day on which voters could register to be eligible to vote in the Aug. 26 primaries, there were 4,599,326 Democrats --- about 39 percent of the electorate --- and 4,144,186 Republicans, or about 35 percent, the state figures show.
A little more than 2.71 million voters registered with no party affiliation, up from 2.57 million for the 2012 general election.
The growing trend of voters shying away from the major parties has the Republican Party of Florida focused "beyond the letters on their voter registration card," party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said in an email.
"We have moved well beyond 'R' vs. 'D' in terms of how we look at voters," Hepworth said. "Instead, we look at voters on an individual level to determine how best to persuade and turn them out."
Among the minor parties, the largest are two with confusingly similar names --- the Independent Party of Florida and the Independence Party of Florida.
The Independent Party has grown from 248,671 to 265,012 voters in the past two years. In the same time, the Independence Party has gone down from 55,074 to 49,511.
Meanwhile, the head count for the Libertarian Party stands at 22,716, up from 17,522 in 2010 and 19,892 in 2012.
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