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Florida To Oversee Effort At Getting 4 Million People Registered To Vote

Florida will try to reach 4 million potential voters in time for the November election.
Florida will try to reach 4 million potential voters in time for the November election.

Florida is taking an historic step by contacting millions of residents who are not registered to vote. They’ll be encouraged to become voters right away and have their voices heard in the upcoming election.

More than 4 million adults will receive postcards directing them to the state’s online voter registration portal. Secretary of State Laurel Lee is overseeing the effort, which relies on data from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“In the coming weeks, we will be contacting those potentially eligible voters with a postcard,” Lee says. “The estimate that we have is that this could be over four million.”

This unprecedented statewide outreach effort is a required part of Florida’s membership in ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multi-state partnership in which states share secure data to eliminate duplicate voter registrations and work to reduce possible voter fraud.

Florida is known for extremely close elections and is critical in national politics, so the potential change to the pool of 14 million registered voters is huge.

The outreach effort is being closely watched nationally. David Becker with the Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington predicts as many as one of five adults who gets a postcard will become new voters. That’s 800,000 people.

“In past elections, we’ve seen roughly 15 percent of the people who receive the postcards register, but I also think there’s a really strong probability we’ll do significantly better than that this year, with so much interest in this election across the political spectrum,” Becker said. “What we’ve seen is a relative drop in new registration activity as a result of the pandemic, with fewer people going to motor vehicle offices and fewer third party voter registration drives taking place.”

Groups that support expanded access to voting are praising the state for its efforts.

“It’s welcome given the slow registration rates this year, frankly, due to COVID,” says Brad Ashwell with the group All Voting is Local. “A lot of groups weren’t able to do their traditional door-knocking and retail voter registration, so it really is good timing … It would be great if the state went above and beyond. It would be great to see them text folks, to use phone numbers they do have … They could be doing a lot more than just a postcard if they wanted to, but it’s good that they’re at least doing the postcard.”

Lee said ERIC told the state that now is the best time for a mailing because interest in the election is approaching its peak. “The closer we get to the general election, the higher level of engagement and interest we expect to see from potential voters,” Lee said.

County election supervisors lobbied for years for Florida to join ERIC. Their efforts stalled when Rick Scott was governor, but Gov. Ron DeSantis embraced the idea, and the outreach is finally taking place. The cost of the statewide mailing is about $1.3 million.

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.