Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

Florida sees surge in new voters after weeklong registration extension

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TALLAHASSEE — The extra week of voter registration in Florida has produced nearly 37,000 new voters, and the surge will continue in the coming days as the state sets an all-time record for the total number of voters.

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, said 36,823 voter registration forms have been verified from people who registered from Oct. 11 to Tuesday, and 26,773 more applicants are being verified.

That's a potential bounty of 63,596 more voters. Scott won re-election as governor two years ago by 64,145 votes.

The voter roll will get even larger as an unknown number of additional voter forms are still in the mail and will be valid if they were postmarked by Tuesday.

Detzner has promised that every voter who registered during the extension week will be verified by Oct. 29, the last day that early voting can begin. But Democrats call that unacceptable, because most of Florida's major counties will begin early voting Monday, and they launched a new legal assault Wednesday, asking a judge to force Detzner to complete verifications of all forms by Sunday.

The Republican Party of Florida immediately opposed that motion. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who has twice ruled in favor of the Democrats in extending voter registration and requiring a cure for voters with signature problems, has called a hearing for 9 a.m. today in his Tallahassee courtroom.

Among the witnesses to be called is Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer.

In a statement, Detzner said every application must be verified using Social Security and Florida driver's license numbers. Once that's done, information is sent to county elections officers who add voters to the rolls.

"The Department will devote more than 65 staff members to assist in this process up until election day," Detzner said in a release. "Of this number, 19 staff members are trained and approved by the state to enter and handle sensitive voter information."

New voters whose forms have not been verified will have to cast provisional ballots, putting their votes in question.

Florida had 12,655,286 voters as of Sept. 30, the latest date registrations have been reported by the state.

Democrats accounted for 38 percent of all voters, Republicans 36 percent, no-party voters 24 percent and minor party voters 2 percent. The number of no-party voters passed 3 million for the first time in Florida history.

Scott, a Republican who supports Donald Trump, denied a request by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign to extend Florida's voter registration deadline, citing widespread evacuation orders after Scott declared a state of emergency for Hurricane Matthew.

"I'm not going to extend it," Scott said Oct. 6. "Everybody has had a lot of time to register."

After the Democratic Party sued the state requesting an extra week. The judge, Walker, declared Florida's voter registration law unconstitutional and ordered the extension, first for one day and then for six more, as attorneys for Scott and Detzner officially took no position in court on the extension.

"I want 100 percent participation, and of course, like all of us, we don't want any fraud," Scott said Tuesday in Tampa.

For the two months ending Sept. 30, Miami-Dade registered more than 38,000 new voters, far more than any other county.

Broward saw 23,000 new registrants in the same period. In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough had 22,000 and Pinellas 14,000.

Along the I-4 corridor in Central Florida, Hispanic outreach groups have been particularly active in recent weeks registering new voters.

As those new voters join the rolls, Florida Democrats have largely eliminated the Republicans' long-standing advantage in returned mail ballots.

In the state's presidential primary last March, Republicans had an advantage of 7.7 percentage points over Democrats in mail ballot returns, but Democrats said the advantage in this election was less than 1 percent on Wednesday.

The state did not provide a breakdown of new voters by party or by county. That information won't be available until sometime next week at the earliest, Detzner's office said.

The state's largest county, Miami-Dade, has seen a frenzy of new voter registration activity. Boxes and trays full of new forms were left at the offices of Supervisor of Elections Christina White on Tuesday afternoon.

The Miami-Dade voter roll grew by more than 38,000 voters to 1,307,458, during the two months between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30, far more than any other county in Florida.

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] Follow @stevebousquet.

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