Op-ed: Bringing Democracy Directly to Floridians

Recently, Florida election supervisors of both political stripes joined together to send an important message: Our democracy is under threat because of election misinformation “that sows discord and undermines trust in America’s electoral process.” They then called on elected officials and candidates to “stand up for our democracy.”

At the nonprofit and nonpartisan Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, we couldn’t agree more that we need to do all we can to protect our democracy and empower voters. In light of all the efforts to limit access to democracy, our work has never been more urgent. That’s why VPC and CVI are proud to help bring democracy to Floridians’ doorsteps and it’s why we sent 741,717 voter registration applications to Florida voters across the state during this election season.

VPC and CVI specifically work to engage and turn out a group we call the New American Majority — made up of young people, people of color and unmarried women. While these New American Majority folks are 150 million strong across the nation, representing 64% of all Americans who can vote, we know that they register and vote at rates lower than their actual numbers. We call that a “turnout gap.” 

In Florida, that turnout gap is even larger than national figures. According to the census population survey, 57.4% of the New American Majority voted in Florida compared to 61% of the total voting eligible population nationally. Voter registration lags, too. Nationally, 32% of the New American Majority are not registered; in Florida, 36.5% are unregistered.

These numbers tell an important story. Many of these individuals would simply not be reached were it not for VPC and CVI. We do the work that state and county election officials rarely do, in finding people who are not registered to vote and bringing them into the system.

When Florida teens turn 18 years old, for example, VPC and CVI send them voter registration applications to help them celebrate the milestone by becoming legal voters. We also send voter registration applications to those who have recently moved to remind them to update their registration with their current address.  

VPC and CVI’s programs are time-tested and proven to be very effective. We run the largest mail-based voter registration and turnout program in the nation. Since 2003, VPC has helped register more than 5.7 million people to vote including 824,909 people in Florida. In 2020, we launched our largest voter drive ever, helping to register more than 1.6 million voters and enabling 4.6 million people return vote-by-mail ballot applications to their local election offices. 

This year, this work is more urgent than ever with Floridians facing new challenges to casting their ballots. Despite unprecedented turnout in the 2020 election, certain Florida lawmakers enacted SB 90, a broad anti-voter bill. This legislation makes voter registration and vote-by-mail more difficult, and will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color. We must work even harder to build on last election’s successful turnout and to increase participation by eligible voters.

At VPC and CVI, we believe that voting is a fundamental right and a core to who we are as a democracy and a nation. Let’s work together to carry the torch on defending our democracy and ensure that every eligible Floridian can easily access the ballot box this election season and beyond. 

Tom Lopach is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information.