Florida Sees Decline in Voter Registration During Coronavirus Pandemic

Hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting. Photo and Caption: Alexandru Nika/Shutterstock.com

As with many things, the coronavirus has affected voting registration in many key swing states, such as Florida. The number of voter registrations in Florida plummeted in April compared to prior presidential election years as the threat of the coronavirus forced places to shut down and different states imposed stay-at-home orders. Governor Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 1 amid concern about how the highly contagious novel coronavirus could spread through the state. 

Even before this was done, the public decided to avoid public places and government offices started closing to the public. Now, as the state begins reopening and more Floridians are venturing out again, the number of voter registrations is likely to begin rising again. People who had delayed trips to driver’s license offices will likely return in the coming months.

Other states have seen a drop in voter registration as well. April registrations in Virginia were down 73 percent compared to April registrations ahead of the 2016 presidential election. In Texas, an analysis by the Austin American-Statesman found that new voter registrations had fallen particularly in large, urban counties.

Before coronavirus, the rate at which voter registration was going was exceeding that of the 2016 presidential election (700,00 registrations in January 2020 as opposed to 500,000 in 2016). This is according to data from Democratic voter targeting firm TargetSmart. Voter registrations in March fell below 2016 levels, then nosedived further in April, the data shows.

In Hillsborough County, data showed that in May new voter registrations in that county continued to significantly lag May 2016 levels. Gerri Kramer, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office, said she expects new voter registrations to rise as the deadline for registering for November’s general election nears. “We always get more applications as we get closer to a registration deadline, especially when we get closer to a presidential election deadline,” she said.

This decline in voter registration could be a problem for Democrats. Democrats have historically tended to rely more on in-person voter registration than Republicans. Registered voters also tend to be more Republican than the overall adult population.

Florida has an online voter registration form, which can help provide access during this period, said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who studies elections. But he said it can’t solve the problem of people not going to government offices or being reached by voter-registration drives. 

The decline is likely attributable to social distancing and closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research. Measures taken to protect public health brought third-party at schools and “motor voter registration” (when someone applies for a driver’s license) to a near standstill. The registration drop in Florida could have a big impact on the 2020 election. Experts generally agreed that Florida is one of three key states that will determine who wins the presidency this November.

Please visit the Florida Divisions of Elections website to find out more about the requirements needed to register to vote. Once you are ready to register, you may navigate over to the Register to Vote Florida website to register to vote.