Governor Ron DeSantis opened the door for more election reform at an Aug. 21 Orlando press conference. That’s when he announced Florida will join the Electronic Registration Information Center.
ERIC provides more accurate voter data to member states. ERIC, a nonprofit organization, crunches information it gathers from member states and the post office. It also collects death updates from the Social Security Administration. Florida becomes the most populous state to join ERIC, following the lead of 28 other states and Washington, D.C.
The data allow members to update their voter rolls, flag people who are registered to vote in more than one location and remove voters who have died.
ERIC also gives members a list of eligible citizens who are not registered to vote. ERIC members contact people on the list every two years before a federal election is held. All 67 county supervisors of elections in the Sunshine State endorsed ERIC membership. The governor and his appointed secretary of state remained mum until the recent press conference.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Gov. DeSantis voiced skepticism about the outreach effort. “People spend big money trying to get voters registered,” he said. “If it was just as easy to send them a postcard in the mail and fill it out, well, that would make it much easier. And typically you’ve [actually] got to do more outreach than that.”
My research confirms his point, although the context is important.
I spoke with a state election official about the ERIC-inspired outreach effort. His state gets a 10% to 12% success rate when it mails out postcards to citizens who are unregistered but eligible to register to vote.
ERIC estimates up to 5 million Florida citizens are not registered but eligible to participate in our democratic system. About 500,000 new registered voters aren’t chump change in Florida, which routinely nets razor-thin election results. But the Sunshine State can do even better than this figure suggests.
Automatic Voter Registration is the next election reform frontier for Florida citizens and officials to wade into as sea levels rise here. The National Conference of State Legislatures demonstrates the potential power of automatically signing up citizens to vote at the state Department of Motor Vehicles. ” …during the 2016 election cycle, 33% of all voter registration applications, approximately 25 million, originated in a DMV.”
The Brennan Center for Justice adds 16 states and Washington, D.C. have passed this reform, with more expected to do so soon.
Automatic Voter Registration transforms voter registration in two basic ways, according to the Brennan Center. If Florida enacts Automatic Voter Registration, many citizens who visit the state Department of Motor Vehicles would automatically be registered to vote, unless they opt-out. The agency would then “transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials instead of using paper registration forms,” the Brennan Center notes. Some states with Automatic Voter Registration laws also allow other government agencies to register citizens automatically.
An Automatic Voter Registration bill was introduced this year but died on May 3 in the state Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Sen. Dennis Baxley (R) chairs the committee; the vice-chair is Oscar Braynon II (D). Contact them if you want Florida to supersize the ERIC initiative.
March for Our Lives supporters, including survivors of the Parkland gun massacre, provide another important election reform idea. The Washington Post reports they advocate automatic voter registration when eligible citizens turn 18.
What a simple, direct and brilliant idea. It reminds me of something that happened when I was a senior in high school. A government official showed up at one of my morning classes to tell students they were eligible to register to vote. The official, probably from the Broward Supervisor of Elections office, even gave students a registration form, if requested.
Interestingly, Tallahassee legislators have demonstrated a keen interest in civics classes in our schools. An Aug. 22 article in Florida Phoenix documents how involved our state government got this last legislative session.
The Florida Phoenix article also quotes Stephen Masyada, of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. He says civics classes currently provides kids, “with the knowledge they need to engage with civic life, whether that is as a conservative, a liberal, or somewhere in between.”
That observation is great news. Now maybe members of the state House and Senate will pass a bill during the next session so age-appropriate students, whether conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between, can register to vote in class, if they so choose.
Our governor was correct to say joining ERIC will only go so far in adding to voter registration rolls in Florida. Now it’s time to supersize what DeSantis started on Aug. 21.