Millions of Florida citizens will get a notice in the mail next year. The official government mailer won't be a past due bill, a notice of plans to seize property or other action that may displease residents.
Instead, the notice will contain a benign, even positive message. Up to 5 million Florida citizens will learn they are legally eligible to register to vote in the Sunshine State. Citizens will also learn about easy and convenient ways to register, if they wish to participate in their democratic process.
The official notice will arrive after Florida becomes the 30th jurisdiction to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The nonprofit organization is run by its members, which currently consists of 28 states and the District of Columbia. Florida, the third most-populous state in the nation, with a history of close and chaotic elections, will vault to the top of the population heap when it becomes an ERIC member in 2020. cstates.org/
ERIC gives its members a variety of useful election-related information, which helps them update voter rolls, fight potential voter fraud and make it more convenient to register eligible citizens. This happens when ERIC reviews death records from the Social Security Administration and member state motor vehicle address information, among other data, and cross-checks it with other member states.
The group, formed in 2012 with help from The Pew Charitable Trusts, lets member states know what it learns. The information helps states remove voters who have died. It also lets states know if a voter is registered in more than one jurisdiction, either in the same state or another state that belongs to ERIC. It is not illegal to be registered in more than one location. However, it is illegal to vote twice.
The duplicate registration information is particularly useful in Florida, where some residents own more than one home, or sun here in the winter but return north when spring arrives.
The dual aims of enhanced voter registration information serve the expressed purposes of the two major political parties in our country. Generally Republicans warn about potential voter fraud. ERIC helps states remove deceased voters, making it impossible for them to cast a phantom ballot. States will also be able to contact people with dual registrations to determine where they intend to vote, thus letting states cancel the duplicate voter registration information.
At the same time, Democrats get something of value to them: the potential for increased voter registration. States that belong to ERIC promise to accept a list from ERIC every two years, including in presidential election years. The states promise to let people on the list know they can register to vote. The notice also provides information about easy ways to register. ERIC has estimated between 4 million and 5 million citizens are eligible to register in Florida. For context, in 2018, about 8 million registered voters in Florida picked a governor and a U.S. senator by razor-thin margins, which resulted in mandatory recounts.
Giving citizens voter registration information doesn't mean they will register. Nor does it mean those who register will vote. But it starts to build a new muscle in Florida citizens that over time can become habit. The ERIC-inspired voter registration effort also makes sense in the Sunshine State because of the transient nature of many of its residents.
I learned about ERIC last winter when I spoke with a top state election official in a state that joined in 2012. That state gets about a 10% to 12% response from citizens who are told about easy ways they can register to vote. A second official connected with ERIC told me the government notice gets a better response from citizens than private voter registration attempts. Why? Probably because residents take a document more seriously when it comes from the government.
In Florida, that could mean about 500,000 potential new voters will join the hotly contested political fray in this battleground state. Of course, there is no way to tell what party the newbies will join, or whether they will register as non-aligned voters.
It is also possible that citizens who register after getting a government notice in the mail will break the same way as residents who have already registered and voted. The potential impact of the new voters, though, is this: in 2018, the incumbent Democratic senator lost his seat by about 11,000 votes; the governor's race last year was decided by about 33,000 votes.
New voters may not swing elections in states that glow a bright red or blue. But new voters can flex their muscle in states such as Florida, that make news repeatedly for close and controversial elections.
The improved voter registration information helps Florida because the 67 county Supervisors of Elections administer elections in their counties. Sometimes the election chiefs contact registered voters by mail, but the mail comes back because voters have moved. ERIC membership means officials will spend less money on mail costs which become considerable over time.
More accurate voter registration information also benefits political players who spend time and money contacting voters and potential voters by mail. The updated voter registration addresses are public record. More accurate information, over time, might even help advocates match addresses with email addresses, cell phone numbers and internet service provider addresses to establish a more direct link with citizens.
Florida is moving forward with ERIC membership after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his intentions at an Aug. 21 press conference in Orlando. He also said he planned to ask the state Legislature to provide funding for the effort.
Last week, the governor took another important step. Someone involved in local politics sent me an email. It contained information about the governor's proposed budget for the Legislative session that opens in January. It said: His election security budget also included "$1.4 million for voter registration list maintenance services and voter outreach through the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)."
Anything can happen when politicians get together. But it is likely the governor will get the funding he requested. Significantly, the move to join ERIC also has the backing of the 67 county Supervisors of Elections. They administer the elections in their counties.
It took the Sunshine State some time to get to this point. Although the state Legislature gave the Department of State Authority to join ERIC during the 2018 session, it did not provide funding in either 2018 or 2019.
The 2020 presidential election year is a good time for Florida to make improvements to its election system.