For years, Republicans have been making gains with registered voters in Florida, catching up to Democrats last year for the first time, an accomplishment Gov. Ron DeSantis has often touted.
This month, they reached a new milestone: officially surpassing Democrats by more than one percentage point, or 177,529 registered voters, according to new Division of Elections data analyzed by the Miami Herald.
The new numbers, released just weeks before the midterm elections, could bring a continuation of a trend seen in the 2020 election, when Republicans made gains at every level of government and among Hispanic voters, especially in South Florida.
The latest data could spell trouble for Democrats Charlie Crist and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who are running high-stakes races challenging incumbent Republicans DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio. In recent cycles, Florida gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races have tended to be decided by razor-thin margins.
Republicans recorded a net gain of over 33,000 registered voters while Democrats lost around 8,000 since the August file, data show. Voters who register Non-Party Affiliated increased their numbers statewide by 28,000.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis is giving Florida a great vibe it was missing, and voters appreciate a principled leader who has their back,” Helen Aguirre Ferré, the director of the Republican Party of Florida, said in a statement to the Miami Herald. ”We look forward to decisive GOP victories on November 8th.”
Travis Reuther, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans surpassed Democrats in registered active voters in Florida for the first time in November 2021 and have been extending that lead since.
Andrea Mercado, executive director of the progressive-leaning group Florida Rising, said her organization has been keeping an eye on Republican efforts to register voters, as well as ongoing efforts to curb mail ballot voting.
“We are studying voter purges and tracking voter registration,” Mercado said. “We know there’s over four million Black and Latino people and young people in the state who are eligible to vote but are not registered.”
Mercado, who said her group has registered nearly 30,000 people this year, said she’s paying attention to how those not affiliated with any party are thinking about issues affecting Florida residents, like affordability.
“I think it’ll be really interesting to see, as more and more people register as independent, what are the voting patterns that emerge,” she said.
Although the Florida Division of Elections publishes data that include only active voters on their site, the Herald included active and inactive voters in all calculations and graphics, since inactive voters are still eligible to cast ballots.
Voters are classified as inactive if — after several years of inactivity — an “address confirmation” final notice to their last known address is returned “undeliverable” or fails to elicit a response within 30 days. If they do not return to the polls over the next two federal general elections, request a mail ballot or change their registration information, inactive voters are scrubbed from the rolls.
Inside the numbers
The September numbers factor in both those removed from the voter rolls and new registrants. Federal law prohibits sweeping purges of the voter rolls 90 days before a federal election — both the primary and the general — but not the routine business of subtracting those who die, move out of state, are convicted of felonies or notify the government they no longer wish to be registered.
According to data published by the department, 23,744 active voters were removed between July 31 and Aug. 31.
The decrease in registered Democrats in one month is a reflection of the party not enrolling enough new voters to offset losses, which would include party switchers along with those who move or die.
The number of active voters who have been removed from the rolls so far in 2022 is more or less in line with previous years. The number of inactive voters removed has been lower than in the past.
However, in the most recent month recorded, there were almost 2,500 inactive voters removed from the rolls. The Department of State did not respond to questions about that.
The Herald spoke to elections officials in Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange counties — all three counties Democratic leaning — and all said the number of voters removed so close to the election was not necessarily surprising or alarming given pressures from the state about keeping the rolls up to date, and how often the Department of State sends lists of voters for removal.
“The environment we are in now, there is a lot of pressure to make sure our lists are as clean as possible on a continuous basis,” said Joe Scott, the supervisor of Elections in Broward County.
In 2019, the state announced it was joining the Electronic Registration Information Center System (ERIC), part of a cooperative effort between states to help each other keep voter records up to date and avoid voters simultaneously being on the rolls in multiple states.
Joining the program, which includes both Red and Blue states, allows Florida to cross-check its voter records with those of the other states, 32 of them plus Washington D.C., that are part of the organization, find ineligible voters and strike them from the rolls.
The Department of State acts as a clearinghouse for this voter information. From there, it filters down to the county level.
This is the first election cycle in which ERIC is driving most of the list maintenance process, according to Scott.
The state Division of Elections website does not say what parties the recently removed voters belonged to and the division did not respond to multiple requests from the Herald for clarity. But, according to Herald calculations of the voter files, 11,915 Republicans, 11,431 Democrats and 6,297 NPA registered voters were removed.
Through a cross-check of the August and September files, the Herald was able to identify the voters who were removed from one month to the next — and tally their party affiliations.
The GOP increased its margin despite Florida having more Republicans than Democrats erased from the rolls from routine maintenance over the past month. Republicans and NPAs are both outpacing Democrats in new registration.
While Republican registrations increased in all 67 counties in Florida, Democrats lost registered voters in all but 11.
McClatchy data reporter Shirsho Dasgupta and Miami Herald investigative reporter Nicholas Nehamas contributed with this report.