In the first month of online voter registration in Florida, more than 8,000 people electronically joined the voter rolls in Florida, and Democrats favor the new system over Republicans.
The League of Women Voters of Florida says a lot more people would have registered online, but they don’t know the program exists because the state has done almost nothing to educate Floridians about it.
“This is a tree falling in the forest,” said League president Pamela Goodman. “We’re going to come up with our own campaign.”
It has only been one month, so it’s hardly a definitive trend. But October saw 2,965 Democrats using their computers to become voters, compared to 2,267 Republicans. More people than that (2,606) registered to vote with no party affiliation than Republicans, with the rest signing up with a minor party.
A total of 6,311 people registered to vote online and another 2,054 used the state’s new online voter registration website, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, to fill out a voter registration application that they submitted by hand (they count, too). Those totals also included some previously registered voters who used the new online system to update addresses or other basic information.
"I think it’s too early to draw conclusions from the data, but we make every effort to provide potential voters with convenient ways of registering to vote,” said Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White. “As we continue to educate our citizens regarding online voter registration, we expect to see an increase in this form of voter registration.”
“Too soon, and not enough data for any meaningful empirical analysis or statistical validity,” said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley.
More voters in Broward (1,275) have connected to the new system than in any other county, according to county-by-county figures provided by the state at the Times/Herald’s request. Miami-Dade was second with 1,147 online transactions and Sarasota was third with 703. Orange County had 556, Hillsborough 539, Palm Beach 524 and Pinellas 326.
A total of 131 people in Manatee County utilized the system.
What online voter registration needs, the League of Women Voters’ Goodman said, “is a really good P.R. effort with public service announcements on TV.” The Legislature did not set aside any money for that purpose, and Goodman said private groups like hers will take up the effort in 2018.
Statewide, Florida had 12.8 million voters on Sept. 30, with Democrats holding a narrow statewide lead in total registration over Republicans, 37.5 percent to 35.4 percent. But the fastest-growing segment of the voting population are NPAs, who made up 26.7 percent of all voters.
After nearly two-and-a-half years of planning, Florida became the 35th state to offer online voter registration as an option on Oct. 1. County election supervisors had been pushing for the option for years, saying it would expand the voter rolls while saving money at the same time.
“The Department of State oversaw a smooth and successful launch of Florida’s new online voter registration website, RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov, which can be used to submit a voter registration application, update an existing registration or fill out and print a paper application that can be delivered to the local (elections) office,” Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement. “We hope it will continue to be a tool that allows more Floridians to register to vote and engage in the electoral process.”
Deztner, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, was not an early proponent of online registration, and the governor approved its creation “with some hesitation” in 2015.
Scott is proposing an $87.4 billion budget for next year that includes $2.4 million in cyber-security efforts to monitor threats of suspicious activity to Florida voting systems. The total, which requires approval by the Legislature, includes $1.9 million in grants to all 67 counties and $500,000 for a new cyber-security unit in the Department of State, which includes the state Division of Elections.
Detzner agreed to the new program in the 2015 session after the budget included a $1.8 million appropriation for the new system and an effective date of Oct. 1, 2017.
That budget and the two that followed it have included no money to advertise and promote online voter registration as an option, so it’s likely that many people don’t know the option exists.
Most voter registration outreach is done across social media by election supervisors, by the two major political parties and by third-party groups such as the League of Women Voters.
Detzner’s spokeswoman, Sarah Revell, said the agency has a limited budget for marketing. She said the agency will use billboards and digital ads in English and Spanish to let people know online voter registration exists.
“We encourage stakeholders, including third-party voter registration organizations, to help raise awareness of this great new tool for Floridians,” Revell said.
Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said online registration is the wave of the future, “a new mindset of service convenience that helps elevate every voter’s experience with the elections office.”