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After long delay, Florida joins national voter registration database

The voluntary program was developed in 2012 by the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts and uses voters registration rolls of its member states to compare voting lists. It will allow Florida to identify duplicate registrations and outdated records from voters.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Aug. 21, 2019
Updated Aug. 22, 2019

Florida’s voter registration data will be cross-checked against information from 28 other states for the first time starting next year, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday, promising increased accuracy of the state’s voter rolls.

During an appearance with election officials at the Orange County supervisor of elections office in Orlando, DeSantis said Florida will join the non-partisan Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan cooperative working to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls.

The voluntary program was developed in 2012 by the non-profit Pew Charitable Trusts and uses voters registration rolls of its member states to compare voting lists. It will allow Florida to identify duplicate registrations, outdated records from voters who have moved or died and determine who is eligible to vote but has not yet registered.

The system works by combining voter registration information with other databases, such as driver license records, Social Security numbers and the U.S. Postal Service’s national change of address registry. It relies on algorithms designed to detect inaccuracies in member states’ data.

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“One of my administration’s top priorities is protecting the integrity of Florida’s elections, which is why joining ERIC is the right thing to do for our state as it will ensure our voter rolls are up to date, and it will increase voter participation in our elections,” DeSantis said in a statement.

“Since taking office, we have been reviewing this issue with supervisors of elections,’’ he said in the statement. “We are confident that by improving the accuracy of our voter rolls, we will reduce the potential for voter fraud.”

Although the program was launched in 2012, it wasn’t until 2018 that the Florida Legislature passed a bill to authorize the state’s involvement in the program starting in January 2019, despite urging by the Florida Association of Supervisors of Elections.

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Elections officials cited evidence that ERIC was a secure way to share data and improve the accuracy of the voter registration system and for years asked lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to join the program.

States that have joined ERIC report having an increase in voter registration rates and more accurate voting lists. According to a Pew study in 2014, Utah used the program to discover a problem with invalid Social Security numbers; Colorado found hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle records were missing photos and signatures that could have prevented those people from using that state’s online voter registration system. And several states reported improved communication between state election and motor vehicle agencies.

Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones thanked DeSantis and called ERIC “an incredible tool to help ensure our voter rolls are accurate.”

“We are very delighted the governor did this,’’ said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, “It’s been long overdue.”

Brigham said the program will help Florida elections officials get a list of people who have a Florida driver’s license but who have not registered to vote.

“That could be several million people,’’ she said. “Now, the Legislature needs to allocate the money for the supervisors to send postcards to those people. That would be a huge development for Florida — and we could add millions more to the rolls.”

The program will also provide a way to validate claims of voter fraud, often cited as a reason why the state should not make voter registration easier, because the system identifies people who are no longer eligible to vote. If the supervisors of elections follow procedures outlined by the National Voter Registration Act, the names can be removed from the rolls.

Florida lawmakers must now approve the $1.3 million it will cost the state to join the program. The next legislative session begins Jan. 14. The ERIC program requires states to send mailers to eligible but unregistered voters every federal election cycle.

Information from the News Service of Florida supplemented in this report.

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