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  1. Opinion

Let’s make a push to get out the vote | Column

A focused registration effort is key to reach underrepresented groups, write advocates.

More than 5.6 million Floridians are not yet registered to vote, and almost 4 million are from three groups traditionally underrepresented in the electorate — people of color, unmarried women and young people. Without a registration effort to sign them up in the next 90 days, too many Floridians could be left behind.

There is an even tighter deadline: July 20 is the last day to register to vote for Florida’s Primary Election. The pandemic is making it all harder.

Florida trails the nation and other major southeastern states in voter registration across the board, and particularly among these three underrepresented groups. Before the pandemic, only 62.7 people of all voting-eligible Floridians were registered, versus 66.9 percent of Americans, Census records show. For people of color, unmarried women and young people, the figures are even lower: 57.7 percent registered to vote in Florida versus 61.2 percent nationally.

While the Florida Division of Elections reported that 109,859 new voters registered in February 2020, compared to 87,351 registrants in the same month during the last presidential election cycle, these figures crumbled during the pandemic. Two months later, only 21,031 new voters had registered in Florida, compared with 52,508 in the same month in 2016.

Today, there is an urgent need to contact unregistered Florida adults through the mail or online, and our local election officials should actively support efforts to register Floridians to vote.

To meet the moment, the nonpartisan Voter Participation Center (VPC) and Center for Voter Information (CVI) are increasing their mail-based and digital voter registration efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. And many other civic-engagement organizations including The First Coast Leadership Foundation, Organize Florida and UnidosUS are continuing their work and outreach — person-to-person through technology — to ensure historically disadvantaged communities exercise their most fundamental freedom by registering to vote and requesting Vote-by-Mail ballots.

Last month, VPC and CVI mailed almost 12 million pieces to prospective voters in 22 states, including 2.3 million mail pieces in Florida. These organizations have helped register more than 4.6 million voters nationally and more than 691,025 Floridians. Grass-roots organizations in Florida have also filed a lawsuit against Florida election officials, urging them to make critical adjustments to online voter registration, early voting plans and vote-by-mail processes. The case, Dream Defenders v. DeSantis, argues that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida’s election administrations must ensure that voters are able to participate and stay healthy.

Floridians have demanded and should take advantage of online voter registration, mail-in registrations, vote-by-mail, as well as safe, convenient and accessible in-person voting locations during Early Voting and on Election Day. Every voter should be registered, every vote should be cast, every eligible ballot should be counted, and every voice should be heard.

Every segment of society — especially those who have been historically disadvantaged and disenfranchised — should be seated at the table, not shunted to the sidelines. This starts with accessibility and collaboration.

Page Gardner is founder and board chair of the non-profit and non-partisan Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information. Other co-signers of this column include: Yanidsi Velez, Florida state director, Hispanic Federation; Nancy Batista, Florida state director, Poder Latinx Collective Fund; Kristin Fuwylie Thomas, managing director, Equal Ground Education Fund; Andrea Mercado, executive director, New Florida Majority; Debbie Soto, president of the Organize Florida Board of Directors, Organize Florida; Siottis Jackson, chief program & operating officer, The First Coast Leadership Foundation; and Jared Nordlund, Florida state director, UnidosUS.

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