A number of commenters in my threads from Florida's primary seem confused about what a closed primary means, and what its limits are. Michelle Malkin and Flip Pidot also blogged about this overnight, but miss the point of exit polling showing voter inclinations and not actual registration. Having lived most of my life in closed-primary states, I can tell CapQ readers that the exit polling should surprise no one.
Florida's rules on primary voting and registration are clear:
Florida is a closed primary election state. That means, only voters who are registered members of the two major political parties (Democrats and Republicans) may vote in a primary election for partisan candidates. Registered minor political party voters and voters who register without a party affiliation are not eligible to voter 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, may vote in the primary election. Also regardless of party affiliation, all registered voters can vote on issues and non-partisan candidates.
Closed-primary states typically prepare three ballots for their primary elections: Democrats, Republicans, and non-partisan. When a voter comes to the polling center, their listing carries their registration, and they receive the applicable ballot. That way, the state and the political parties can assure themselves that only registered Republicans even see the Republican candidates on the ballot, Democrats likewise, and independents and minor-party candidates only see the non-partisan races and initiatives.
This depends on registration, of course. Florida requires any registration changes to take place at least 29 days before an election. In my experience in California, independents would often re-register as either Democrats or Republicans in order to participate in primaries, and then re-register again as independents for the general election. It's perfectly legal, and it is part of the normal primary process. Most of the time it makes no difference at all, because most primaries of late have not had the same wide-open quality of this one after the first three or four states.
In this case, exit polls show "party identification" statistics that put 20% of the voters outside of the Republican Party. That's their stated personal identification, not their actual party registration for last night's primaries. That's not a bug, it's a feature, and it's unavoidable -- unless major parties want to stop re-registering voters altogether. I'm actually a little surprised that only 3% of the vote came from re-registered Democrats, considering the uselessness of their own primary this year, which still attracted over 1.6 million voters to the 1.8 million who voted in the GOP contest. Three percent of that vote would have been 54,000 voters, and yet McCain won by almost 100,000.
Republicans need to look elsewhere for answers. No one robbed us of a closed primary in Florida. Even among self-identified Republicans in this exit poll split equally between McCain and Romney, so it isn't as if Republicans didn't significantly support the winner of this contest.