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
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.
On Tuesday, the Florida House Judiciary Committee proposed PCB CDJ 19-01, a cynical power grab by the majority party to crack down on the citizen initiative process. Over the past 20 years, Floridians, in a state dominated by Republican lawmakers, have consistently approved progressive ballot measures–from High Speed Rail, to Raising the Minimum Wage, to Fair Redistricting, to Medial Marijuana, to Felon Re-infranchisment. When fellow citizens place these statewide constitutional amendments on the ballot for public consumption, Florida voters consistently gobble them up.
Now Republican lawmakers want to crackdown on the initiative process itself, changing the rules of the game so as to stymie future efforts to have citizens approve statewide ballot issues the majority party can easily bury in the legislative process.
PCB CDJ 19-01 is not the only attack on the process of direct democracy in Florida this session. SJR 232 would require citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to pass with a 2/3rds supermajority, up from 60% (which, itself, was jacked up from a simple majority by a statewide referendum placed on the ballot by the Republican legislature in 2006).
This is all part of a coordinated attack on the initiative process, and not only in Florida (see what’s happening in other states in this Brennan Center piece). It’s not new (I wrote about similar efforts more than a decade ago); as it was then, it is clearly motivated by partisanship and control of the policy agenda.
So, it’s not rocket science as to why Republican-controlled legislatures try to change the rules of the game, curtailing the power of citizens to use the initiative process. Progressive statewide ballot measures often are approved in states where conservatives dominate the state legislature. In these states, Republican lawmakers aren’t used to, nor do they like, ceding the legislative agenda to the people. After all, in the first part, in many states they control state government precisely because they were able to successfully gerrymander legislative districts–drawing favorable districts to afford them a majority of seats in both legislative chambers, thus controlling the policy agenda.
Of course, direct democracy is no panacea for what ails our republic, and over the past 25 years I’ve written critically about the process. But as Woodrow Wilson, no fan of the initiative process himself, conceded in 1911 while on the presidential hustings, citizen lawmaking can serve as the “gun behind the door–for use only in case of an emergency, but a mighty good persuader, nevertheless.”