Finally. After years of prodding by local supervisors of elections, it took a fresh look from a new governor for Florida to do the right thing and agree to join nearly 30 other states in a coalition aimed at reducing voter fraud. Even if Gov. Ron DeSantis is skeptical that this effort also will increase voter registration, he is embracing common sense and cooperation over partisan politics.
For years, Florida dragged its feet and refused to join a multi-state partnership aimed at reducing voter fraud. The 28 states that are members of the Electronic Registration Information Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit consortium that shares voter information. It’s an effective, efficient way to scrub voter rolls and reduce or eliminate duplicate registrations. What could be controversial about working harder to have accurate voter rolls?
As concerns about election fraud heightened following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, state lawmakers finally passed legislation last year that permitted Florida to join the multistate group. Yet former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration never got around to joining. The DeSantis administration also was slow to act. The director of the state’s Division of Elections even told county supervisors of elections in May that joining the consortium amounted to embracing "a carrot and stick'' approach.
The stick: One of the requirements to membership is educating residents about how to register to vote. Sounds more like another carrot. Why are Republicans so afraid of efforts to register to vote as many Floridians as possible?
Fortunately, DeSantis has seen the light and announced this week that Florida will join the consortium. The state will be required to reach out to about 4.2 million residents who are eligible to vote but not registered and inform them about "the most efficient means to register to vote.'' The governor will ask lawmakers for the $1.3 million to pay for the outreach, a pittance compared to the public benefit of encouraging more Floridians to become active participants in democracy.
Of course, there is more Florida could be doing to protect the integrity of elections. For example, Secretary of State Laurel Lee asked the Legislature this year for $1.5 million to keep five cyber security contractors who were hired last year to help local supervisors of elections. Lawmakers refused. While counties have received about $15 million in federal money for election security and another $1.9 million in state money for monitoring sensors that can detect cyber threats, it’s awfully short-sighted for legislators to deny Lee’s modest request. She should try again next year.
In Florida, every vote counts when statewide races for president, governor and other offices can be decided by tiny margins. Assuring the accuracy of voter rolls and encouraging more eligible Floridians to register to vote always should be top priorities. DeSantis took a significant step this week toward ensuring that by doing what his predecessor would not and agreeing to join the multistate group. For once in Tallahassee, common sense prevails.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news