About electionsmith

Dr. Daniel A. Smith is Chair and Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida and President of ElectionSmith, Inc. He is former Director of the Political Campaigning Program at the University of Florida. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1994, and his B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa) in History and Political Science (Foreign Affairs) from Penn State University in 1988. Professor Smith's research examines how political institutions affect political behavior across and within the American states. Currently, he is working with Dr. Michael C. Herron (Dartmouth College), on several projects that exam how changes to election laws in the American states are influencing voter participation. Dr. Smith has published more than eighty scholarly articles and book chapters on politics in the American states. His book with Caroline J. Tolbert, Educated by Initiative: The Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States (University of Michigan Press, 2004), examines the “educative effects” of the initiative process on voter turnout, citizen engagement, and political efficacy, as well as the indirect impact citizen lawmaking has on interest groups and political parties. Smith’s first book, Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy (Routledge, 1998), investigated the financial backing and the populist-sounding rhetoric of three anti-tax ballot initiatives: Proposition 13 in California (1978), Proposition 2 1/2 in Massachusetts (1980), and Amendment 1 in Colorado (1992). He is also the coauthor, with Todd Donovan, Tracy Osborne, and Christopher Mooney of a widely-used textbook, State and Local Politics: Institutions and Reform (Cengage, 2015), now in its 4th edition. Professor Smith serves on the Board of Directors of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation (BISCF), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, and is a member of the Advisory Board of Common Cause Florida. Smith served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ghana in 2000-01 and as a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Democratic Development in 2011, and has written widely on contemporary Ghanaian electoral politics. A seasoned observer of election laws, voting rights, and ballot initiative campaigns around the country, and on the politics of Florida, Professor Smith’s commentary has appeared in or has been heard on numerous news media, including The New York Times, the Economist, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, BBC, National Public Radio, Voice of America, and ABC and NBC News. Professor Smith has advised the state legislatures of Colorado and Florida, as well as numerous groups across the country, on the mechanics of the initiative process and the politics of voting rights and redistricting. He has served as an expert witness in dozens of legal cases dealing with voting rights, ballot measures, campaign finance laws, and redistricting, and is the lead author of an amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2010.

OK, there’s been a tremendous amount written on voter registration trends, by party, in Florida. It’s all wrong. Here’s why.

I’ve published quite a bit on the topic, served as an expert witness in dozens of successful lawsuits, and know these files inside and out.

Here are the facts, using proper voter files (i.e., contemporaneous), comparing Jan-July 2016 registration numbers with Jan-July 2020 voter registration numbers, comparing apples to apples.

To look at new registrations (that is, how the parties and groups are doing on the ground), you cannot merely use the Florida Division of Elections summary files to figure this out, as I explained four years ago, here.

OK, here are the numbers. Comparable voter registration, as of July 1, 2020, was down by a total of 136,392 registrants. And Democrats and Republicans both account for 32.1% of new registrants over the first six months of the year.

New Registrations by Party, January-June, 2016 vs. January-June 2020

Dem Rep NPA 3rd Total
Jan-June 2016 152,320 131,059 149,090 10,273 442,742
34.4% 29.6% 33.7% 2.3% 100.0%
Jan-June 2020 98,439 98,472 99,879 9,560 306,350
32.1% 32.1% 32.6% 3.1% 100.0%
Difference (2020-2016) -53,881 -32,587 -49,211 -713 -136,392
-2.3% 2.5% -1.1% 0.8%


So, cut these numbers as you will, but by no means can it be said that Democrats are killing it out there.  In fact, a total of 33 more Republicans registered to vote anew between January 1 and June 30 (and remained registered as of June 30) than newly registered Democrats.

COVID-19 is obviously the major reason why Democratic numbers are down, as nonpartisan groups who usually hit the ground are not as active, SOEs who usually are in the schools preregistering young voters had no classrooms to go to in April or May, etc.  We’ve seen this pattern before, in 2011, after the Republican legislature passed HB 1355, which, among other things, cracked down on voter registration efforts by 3PVROs, as Michael Herron and I have written about before.

Perhaps Democrats and their allies will turn it around before the October registration date. Young voters who register immediately before an election in Florida are more likely to turn out in that proximate election, as Enrijeta Shino and I find, but their turnout levels aren’t sustained in subsequent elections, casting some doubt on the habitualization of voting.

But until we get some book closing numbers, the data are what they are. Republicans, as a proportion of new registrants in Florida, are doing better than they did four years ago over the first six months of the presidential election year.

Interested in Vote-by-Mail? Two papers on rejected VBM ballots in Florida & Georgia, as referenced in @NYTimes https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/us/vote-by-mail-coronavirus.html are available here:

“Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus”

“Voting by Mail in a VENMO World: Assessing Rejected Absentee Ballots in Georgia”


Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus

New paper by Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, available here.

The coronavirus and its concomitant need for social distancing have increased the attractiveness of voting by mail (VBM). VBM voting is nonetheless not a panacea for election administration in the time of a pandemic, and this is because a widespread move to this form of voting risks exacerbating existing inequities in mail-in ballot rejection rates across voters and jurisdictions. This motivates our examination of over 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2018 General Election in Florida, including 2.6 million VBM ballots, of which approximately 1.2 percent were rejected by local election officials. We theorize as to why rejected VBM ballots might be linked to individual voter characteristics and to election official discretion, offer a battery of descriptive statistics detailing rejected ballots in Florida’s 2018 election, and provide results from a selection
model that analyzes all of the state’s voters in 2018. We find that younger voters and voters needing assistance are disproportionately likely to have their VBM ballots rejected. We also find disproportionately high rejection rates for out-of-state and military dependents. Lastly, we find significant variation in the rejection rates of VBM ballots cast across Florida’s 67 counties,  suggesting a non-uniformity in the way local election officials verify these ballots. As interest in VBM swells in light of the coronavirus, protecting the rights of all voters requires understanding why some voters’ mail ballots are rejected—diminishing their ability to participate in electoral politics—and how this might be rectified.