More than a year after it was authorized by the Legislature, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday gave the state’s 67 elections supervisors their number one priority for 2020 by joining a multi-state compact to share voter roll information.
DeSantis said Florida would become the 29th state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which makes it easier to track voter registrations across state lines, clean up voter polls of deceased voters and — possibly most importantly — reach out via mail to every eligible but unregistered voter in Florida.
DeSantis estimated that between 4 million to 5 million Floridians aren’t registered to vote.
There had been speculation that the delay was in part due to ERIC’s requirement that states conduct outreach to eligible but unregistered voters – a requirement that the governor indicated the state would honor only because it had to:
Earlier this year, Division of Elections director Maria Matthews alluded to the unregistered voter outreach provision in ERIC as the “stick” in a “carrot and stick” in talking about whether to join the compact.
That description was criticized by some supervisors, and some critics held it up as the reason the DeSantis administration was slow in joining the partnership.
Supervisors “bristled at the idea that reaching out to unregistered voters should be viewed as some sort of punishment,” Politico reported in May.
On Wednesday, the governor made it clear the state would only be making the mass voter outreach because it was an ERIC requirement. He said he was skeptical Florida would get a huge response in voter registration.
“People spend big money trying to get voters registered,” DeSantis said at the Orange County elections office in Orlando. “If it was just as easy to send them a postcard in the mail and fill it out, well, that would make it much easier. And typically you’ve [actually] got to do more outreach than that.”
He said joining with other states “makes the most sense” for keeping voter rolls clean, “especially given the fact that we have a lot of people moving into the state.”
ERIC membership will also give Florida access to a process to identify voters with registrations in other states – and will benefit those other states as well:
Joining ERIC, which was started in seven states in 2012 but has grown to include 28 states and Washington, D.C., will allow supervisors to match duplicate registrations for people who have moved to Florida but remain registered in another state.
The vast majority of people with dual registrations aren’t breaking the law or committing fraud, DeSantis noted. But it does create confusion when attempting to keep voter rolls accurate.
“If you move from Michigan, no one calls their supervisor and says, ‘Hey, I’m leaving, take me off the rolls.’ They just move,” he said. “And so most of the people who are registered in two places don’t ever intend to and will not vote in both places.”
ERIC would also help better identify voters who have died, using their Social Security records.
“Obviously when people pass away, we wish them all the best in the world that lies ahead, but we don’t want them still involved in politics,” DeSantis said.
The Legislature still has to approve the associated mailing costs:
DeSantis, who was joined by Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections President Tammy Jones, said the Legislature will need to approve the $1.3 million cost of mailing postcards to all eligible but unregistered voters.
But Okaloosa supervisor Paul Lux said those costs will come down considerably for the next election cycle after 2020. ERIC requires each eligible voter be notified just one time only, Lux said, and going forward the state would only have to reach out to new residents arriving after each election.
The decision to join comes a year after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill making the state eligible to join ERIC. [Blog on that March 2018 story here – DMCj]
The news was enthusiastically welcomed by county election supervisors who have been lobbying, hard, for ERIC for quite some time:
Supervisors, many of whom were at the Orange elections office for the announcement, said they were thrilled about the decision, which they have been pushing for for years — and which they did not know was coming as of Wednesday morning.
“For our association, which was meeting this morning to go over our legislative priorities, this was our number one priority to get the Legislature to do,” said Orange supervisor Bill Cowles. “And we just crossed that off our list.”
Patricia Brigham, the president of the Florida League of Women Voters, said the league was “delighted” DeSantis joined the compact.
“There was a delay, there’s no question about that,” Brigham said. “I can’t speculate as to why. The main thing is to focus on the positive. DeSantis put the kibosh on that [delay], and now it’s up to the Legislature to make sure money is allocated for ERIC.”
It’s hard to overstate how important this news is; not just for Florida, but for all the other ERIC members, who will now get the benefit of access to one of the nation’s largest state voter rolls. It also serves as a new incentive for other states with lots of “snowbird voters” to join, which will further improve the overall quality of the information shared. Kudos to everyone in Florida who worked so hard to make this announcement happen – it’s a big story and good news for the nation as a whole. Stay tuned …