By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Nearly 1 million registered voters have been dropped from Florida’s active voter rolls since last year, with Democrats and voters with no party affiliation (NPA) accounting for 90 percent of the departed.
Statistics compiled by the Florida Division of Elections show the total number of registered active voters in the state fell from 14,536,811 to 13,540,135 as of Dec. 1. That’s a reduction of 996,676, to about the same number of active registered voters as in 2019 – even as the U.S. Census Bureau reported earlier this year that Florida is once again the fastest-growing state in the nation. Florida’s estimated population was 22.2 million as of July 1, 2022.
The drop is traceable to this year’s enactment of Senate Bill 7050, a package of Republican-led reforms that among other things toughened requirements for maintaining lists of voters – a move that opponents feared could lead to some voters having their registrations wrongly purged. Those lists are kept by county supervisors of elections.
Voter records from South Florida’s three most populous counties reveal similar declines. In Miami-Dade 85,640 voters were moved from active to inactive status, with 90.75 percent being Democrats and NPAs; in Broward, 190,876 were moved to inactive status, with 84.24 percent being Democrats and NPAs; in Palm Beach, the active voter rolls were sliced by 156,148 voters, 82.75 percent of whom were registered Democrats or NPAs.
Florida’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, was unavailable for comment. But department external affairs director Mark Ard said, “Supervisors of Elections perform list maintenance after election cycle years to ensure their voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date. Pursuant to section 98.065 F.S., they’re required to send notices to voters who have not voted in the past 2 election cycles [among other reasons].
“Additionally, Florida has made meaningful election reform over the last few years. There were some noteworthy changes in Senate Bill 7050 last year regarding Florida voter registration list maintenance that have helped to boost election integrity in Florida.”
Such assertions are debatable, however, as the notion of “election integrity” has lately become a political football quarterbacked on one side by Republican presidential contender Gov. Ron DeSantis. Some Democrats have contended such efforts are really intended to suppress voter turnout – particularly among minorities.
Among the most controversial changes in the SB 7050 package was the targeting of third-party voter registration. In May, within days of DeSantis signing the bill into law, the League of Women Voters of Florida sued in federal court in Tallahassee to block what it said were its “severe restrictions” on voter registration activities. It called the changes overbroad, vague and a violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights to free speech — and association that would curtail the league’s voter registration initiatives.
“Among the new regulations are limitations on who may register voters, increased administrative burdens, including re-registering with the state before every election cycle, and significant increases in fines for violations,” the league said.
The league’s lawsuit was consolidated In August with a similar suit brought by the Hispanic Federation and other groups, and remains pending.
Voter list maintenance is performed to keep records current and accurate by identifying changes in voters’ residence and eligibility, due to death or other appropriate reason. Voters who did not cast a ballot within the last two general elections can slide from active to inactive status. If those voters don’t update their registration record, request a mail-in ballot or vote again, they become ineligible and subject to removal from the statewide voter registration file. They must re-register to be restored to active voter status.
Supervisors mail out various forms to try and contact inactive voters. First sent out is a non-forwardable form that the Post Office will return with forwarding information if undeliverable. Address-change notices are then sent when supervisors receive updates from third-party sources that the voter has moved in state. Voters who don’t respond, and likewise fail to act after a follow-up letter or legal notice, are removed from the voter file.
Final notices are sent when supervisors learn that a voter has moved out of state, and to all voters who have not voted or updated their registrations in the past two general elections.
New list maintenance requirements now require county election chiefs to review registrations at least once a year by April 1 to identify voters who are not registered at a legal residence and begin removal. The law also has sped up the removal process by adding deadlines for supervisors to make final determinations of voters’ eligibility.
While some on social media have contended that the million-voters decrease in Florida’s voter rolls is the result of voter suppression, Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott, a Democrat, doesn’t see it that way.
“I try not to engage in conspiracy theories. I don’t necessarily think so. What I think overall that the bill did was make it harder for people to get registered and a lot easier to get removed. So that, you know, is just a fact and that’s why I opposed it,” Scott said. “Now that it’s sort of a done deal, it’s like how bad is it really? Because a lot of people are asking me that question. My answer is, and one thing I’ve said to a lot of people, especially leaders in the state who’ve called me, imagine somebody who didn’t vote in the 2020 election. Are you really losing anything? Do you think this person is going to show up in 2024?”
The way the system works, Scott said, next year will see the revocation of many registrations. “Since it’s an odd-numbered year, everyone should be moving a bulk of people to inactive. In even-numbered years we would move a large group of people to ineligible. Once they are made ineligible, they are ‘removed from the rolls,’” he said. “Last year the group moved to ineligible would have mostly been people who went inactive in 2019.”
HIGH COST OF LIST MAINTENANCE
The Broward Supervisor of Elections office allocated approximately $1 million to conduct voter list maintenance this year. “We have to contact these people, and then you have to do the data entry side as well,” he said.
How many folks does his office back hear from? “I’d say about three percent. That’s it. That’s a lot of money to spend on three percent, eh?”
That’s one reason Scott favors a universal registration system in which every U.S. citizen over the age of 18 who gets a driver’s license, a state ID or interacts with the government in any way is automatically registered unless there is a specific reason to be denied, like a felony conviction.
“We have this system that basically excludes people with bureaucratic paperwork and people get caught up in this bureaucracy and they end up losing their right to vote and it’s only certain people who really get caught up, minorities, by design,” Scott said.
Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White’s office did not answer questions asked on Tuesday. Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link was unavailable for comment, her office said.
Broward’s Scott said he expects the reduction in the number of active voters to have one positive note: “It will improve [percentage of] voter turnout.”