(The Center Square) – More than 13.9 million Floridians are registered to vote in the Nov. 3 general election, according to the Florida Division of Elections (DOE).
Pew Charitable Trusts estimates, however, as many as 5 million Florida residents are eligible to vote but remain unregistered.
In state with 29 electoral college votes and a history of razor-thin election margins, finding and registering nonvoters are among both parties’ keys to winning in November.
Florida is assisting in a last-ditch effort to ferret out unregistered voters by mailing postcards to 2.2 million addresses where Social Security, driver’s license, U.S. Postal Service and voter registration records suggest an unregistered voter lives.
It’s a shot in the dark – there are no accurate ways to document unregistered voters – imposed on the state by its enrollment in the multistate Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) pact.
ERIC, developed by Pew Charitable Trusts, allows states to cross-check voter registration databases to identify outdated records, deceased voters or voters who may be registered in multiple states.
One ERIC requirement is members must reach out to residents who are not unregistered but eligible to vote in every federal election cycle and educate them on how to get registered.
ERIC estimated last year Florida had between 4 million and 5 million unregistered voters.
Florida hesitated joining ERIC last year because of the required outreach to unregistered voters.
DOE Director Maria Matthews, in discussions regarding ERIC membership last summer, referred to the outreach requirement as the “stick” in ERIC’s “carrot and stick.”
The postcard that will arrive in 2.2 million Florida mailboxes this week is in English and Spanish and mentions voters can vote by mail, at an early voting site or at the polls on Election Day.
Florida Democrats said their vote-by-mail campaign is paying dividends and President Donald Trump’s criticism of mail-in voting is hurting Republicans and his own re-election chances in a state he won in 2016 largely because of mail-in ballots.
The Florida Democratic Party, which received a $100 million commitment this week from former Republican New York City mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, announced Friday that 2.22 million Democrats are registered to vote by mail – 717,000 more than Republicans registered to vote by mail.
The total is up from a 50,000 advantage during 2018’s midterm election and an 8,800 edge in 2016’s general election.
“Our volunteers, partner organizations and the coordinated campaign team have worked tirelessly to educate Democrats about vote-by-mail,” Florida Democratic Party Chairperson Terri Rizzo said. “We are excited to see this margin continue to grow.”
Requesting ballots is one thing. Mailing them in, apparently, is another.
In the 2016 presidential election, 8,800 more Democrats than Republicans requested mail-in ballots, but Trump received 58,244 more mail-in votes than Democrat Hillary Clinton because 63,976 more Democrats than Republicans did not return ballots.
The 58,244 advantage in mailed ballots and the 63,976 not mailed by Democrats delivered 29 electoral votes to Trump, who won Florida by 112,911 votes.
In the Aug. 18 state primaries, 2.34 million of 3.9 million votes cast were mail-in ballots, constituting nearly 60 percent of the overall 28 percent turnout, the highest for primary elections in Florida in 18 years.
Trump repeatedly has criticized vote-by-mail with unfounded allegations of fraud, although, at the behest of state Republicans, he has identified Florida’s vote-by-mail process – which he participates in – as secure.
Polls show, however, Trump’s criticisms are influencing Republican voters who voted less by mail in August’s primary and are not requesting mail-in ballots at the same rate as Democrats.
“We are ready to keep our foot on the gas going into November,” Rizzo said.