Russell Smith of Lake Wales is the only person in Polk County
registered with the British Reformed Sectarian Party. When a
reporter asks him what the party's platform is, he laughs and says,
"I couldn't tell you, maybe you can tell me. Can you find out? I
have no idea."
Smith, 57, says he chose the party after
browsing through party codes when he registered to vote. He says the
name seemed to fit his Anglo-American background as his parents were
"It was a whim," says the 57-year-old self-employed
Smith may have a sense of humor when it comes to
choosing a party affiliation, but others are serious about their
allegiance to minor parties.
When Victor Mansfield of
Lakeland goes to the polls on Nov. 2, he won't vote for George Bush
and he won't vote for John Kerry; in the box for president, he'll
mark the name of someone not many people have heard of.
82, he says he's been around long enough to be jaded by mainstream
politics. As a member of the America First party, he knows his
candidate, Michael Peroutka, will not win the election, but he can't
bring himself to vote for anyone else in good conscience.
wife asked me if I had to vote for either Kerry, Bush or Nader, who
would I choose? I said I wouldn't vote: I won't vote for any evil or
the lesser of two evils."
Mansfield and Smith are two of more
than 52,000 Polk County residents belonging to minor parties or
having no party affiliation -- approximately 18 percent of
registered voters. Most of those voters consider themselves to be
independent. But more than 2,000 residents belong to little-known
parties, such as the Family Values Party, Vets Party of America and
Independent Democrats of Florida. Though their platforms are as
varied as the contents of a bag of trail mix, what they have in
common is a disgruntled view of mainstream politicians.
people are registered these days with third parties," says Stephen
Craig, a professor of political science at the University of
Florida. According to statistics from the Florida Department of
State, in August 2000, 1.5 percent of registered voters belonged to
minor parties. In August 2004, it was 2.6 percent.
numbers are undeniably small in the big picture, but as the
presidential election in 2000 taught us, every vote counts -- or in
Florida's case, is counted and recounted. A Gallup poll released
Tuesday reported how close the presidential race is: John Kerry had
49 percent of likely voters on his side, Bush 48 percent, and Ralph
Nader 1 percent.
Since the beginning of political history in
the United States, Craig says, the country has always had two strong
major parties with a few minor ones thrown in. In times of unrest,
Craig says, interest in third parties rises. In 1992, Ross Perot
became the most successful third-party candidate since Theodore
Roosevelt in 1912, with 19 percent of the popular vote. Fans viewed
the billionaire as an antidote to the ailing economy under George
While most eyes are on Nader again as the
potential monkey wrench in the upcoming election, Richard Scher,
also a political science professor at the University of Florida,
says Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik is the one to
"Like most third-party voters, the Libertarians use
their vote as a protest against the Republicans and Democrats,"
Scher says, "But, they may have more of an impact on the election
than all other third parties combined."
Almost 300 voters in
Polk County are Libertarians.
Ralph Swanson, an administrator
for the Libertarians in Winter Park, says they have received less
than 1 percent of the vote in past presidential elections, but
expects to see anywhere from 2 to 5 percent in Florida based on
growing interest in the party he has noticed. Swanson is also
optimistic that they will see more of their candidates on future
ballots. "Just being on the ballot is a victory," he says.
Libertarians say they favor cutting back the size and cost of
government, rolling back taxes and reversing laws that control
people's personal choices.
In Polk County, there are 7,724
registered with the Independent Party. There is no way to know if
some of those voters intended to register as No Party Affiliation,
says Judy Walker, outreach services coordinator for the Supervisor
of Elections Office in Polk County.
Ernie Bach of Largo, who
took over the party's chairman position in July, says he hopes to
take advantage of the large number of people registered as
Independents and create a legitimate party.
"These are people
who have nowhere to hang their hat," Bach explains. "If NPAs had a
real moderate choice, they will come to us in droves."
yet, the Independent Party of Florida has no candidates on the
Other examples of groups with equally strong
convictions are the America First Party, to which Victor Mansfield
of Lakeland belongs, and the Constitution Party. Both parties
contain former Republicans who think the GOP isn't conservative
enough and consistently violates the founding principles of the
original constitution as it was signed in 1787.
On the left
side of the minor-party spectrum are the Independent Democrats of
Florida, whose goal is to make Hillary Clinton president in 2008,
and the Green Party. The Greens are dedicated to grassroots
democracy, sustainable living and global
However, someone's chosen political party
is not an indicator of how they will vote when they get their
ballots, says Scher.
"Right now is not a very suitable
breeding ground for third parties -- not with the country being as
worked up as it is and as polarized as it is," he says, "Everything
is seen in red or blue (Republican or Democrat)."
As a case
in point, Smith, Polk's sole British Reformed Sectarian, will vote
for Kerry on Nov. 2.
For others, such as Libertarian Ralph
Swanson, he'll continue to march to a different
"It's tempting to be frustrated," Swanson says, "But
we can make it into a fun game. When we sit down to talk to someone
and they say, `Hey, that makes sense,' it's a