Florida’s Department of State wrongly told thousands of people that they are not registered for the upcoming election. Through mailed postcards, election officials warned “eligible voters” to register as soon as possible.
Many of the registered voters who received a postcard qualify for a public records exception that protects sensitive or confidential information, which would typically appear as a public record in the voter lookup page.
Florida law allows people who work in specific government jobs that qualify as “high-risk professional class” as well as their spouses and close family members to request an agency to shield their personal voter information from public records review.
Police officers, county and federal judges, firefighters, paramedics, as well as members of the U.S. military are some of the persons that qualify as high-risk professionals.
According to Mark Earley, Leon County Supervisor of Elections, some 22,000 postcards were sent to Leon County where many exempt government employees live. “It may be difficult to put out a filter on exempted people, so I think they probably should have filtered it better,” said Earley.
Florida’s mail outreach efforts were part of a broader strategy to get eligible voters registered before the Oct. 5th deadline. On Sept. 12, the Department of State announced that it had plans to reach 2.24 million people who appear to be eligible but are not listed in Florida’s voter rolls.
The ambitious efforts are possible due to Florida’s participation in a multi-state partnership known as ERIC, the Election Registration Information Center. ERIC is a consortium of 30 states, including the District of Columbia, that shares voter information and cross-checks voter registration data to weed out dead and duplicate voters.
Back in August 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla, announced that Florida would join ERIC with the hopes of cleaning out the voter rolls for the 2020 election.
Laurel Lee, Florida’s Secretary of State, expressed her excitement about Florida joining this effort in election administration. “This unprecedented outreach is a testament to the commitment Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have for registering new voters and encouraging the participation in the democratic processes.”
One of those processes and requirements for sharing information under ERIC is sending out postcards to eligible but unregistered voters. The Division of Elections, under Florida’s Department of State, is the agency in charge of identifying, filtering and sending the postcards.
Even if the postcards arrive on time and to the right people, that strategy does not translate into casting ballots on Election Day. The concerns multiply in light of the fact that the postcards are not brightly colored and only 4% of the postcards are returned on average.
The integrity of ERIC is also in question. In 2018, ERIC incorrectly identified voters in Wisconsin who had moved when they in fact did not. About 31,000 names were purged from the voter rolls based on the erroneous information from ERIC. Fortunately, Wisconsin has same-day voter registration, which meant that many of the voters were able to cast their ballot in the February primary in 2018.
Florida, on the other hand, does not have same-day voter registration.
If there is a mistake in using ERIC or voter information data, thousands of names could be purged from the voter rolls; and people in Florida won’t have the opportunity to cast their ballot in November because of a data error.
With deadlines fast approaching, any mistakes on voter information could make a significant difference in the electoral outcomes of the 2020 election in Florida.
Featured image: A postcard encouraging people to vote. Unmodified image by Ted Eytan under Creative Commons license 2.0 (https://bit.ly/30n9740)
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