TALLAHASSEE – Democrats have opened a 302,000 voters advantage over Republicans in voting by mail registration, an advantage that could pay huge dividends in President Donald Trump’s newly approved state.
Five months before Election Day, more than 1.46 million Democrats have registered to vote by mail compared to 1.16 million Republicans, according to an analysis of data from the state Election Division released on Friday. In comparison, in 2016, Democrats had an advantage of about 8,800 in voting by mail registration.
The reason for success is twofold. Democrats have put more emphasis on getting more people to cast their votes from home, an effort that preceded the start of the coronavirus pandemic. And Trump has demonized this type of voting so much that Republicans, who once dominated mail ballots, are getting upset.
The Florida mail-in enrollment gap is among a series of warning signs for Trump, which led the state by less than 113,000 votes, or 1.19 percentage points, four years ago.
Trump’s Democratic opponent Joe Biden has led each statewide poll in the past two months by an average of 4.6 points, similar to Hillary Clinton’s margin over Trump in 2016 during the same period. Democrats have a 2-point lead over Republicans in the number of registered voters as of April 30, state data shows.
Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, called the vote-by-mail numbers “flashy.” In a memo, he noted its importance in a state where elections are often won on the sidelines.
Peñalosa marveled at Trump’s “crazy” success by lessening the Republican Party’s enthusiasm for voting by mail because it has worked so well for Florida Republicans.
“They will have to produce more people, perhaps 300,000 more voters, on election day,” Peñalosa said in an interview. “They haven’t had to get as many more voters in one day in more than a decade that I’ve been to Florida.”
Any registered voter in Florida can request a ballot by mail up to 10 days before an election, a policy established nearly 20 years ago in the wake of the chaotic 2000 presidential count.
Registering for a mail ballot does not guarantee that a voter will send it. But more than 90 percent of Republicans who requested a ballot in 2016 returned it, compared to 87 percent of Democrats, according to Republican pollster Ryan Tyson.
There has been increased interest in voting by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Democrats have endorsed it as an alternative to queuing at polling places. A super PAC aligned with Democrats and other left-wing groups have filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the state facilitate voting by mail.
Trump has increasingly criticized voting by mail, calling it fraud. But while electoral fraud does occur, it is extremely rare and has never been shown to be so large as to influence a state or national election.
“My biggest risk in this election is voting by mail,” Trump told POLITICO in an interview last week. “We have many demands everywhere. And if we don’t win those demands, I think, I think it puts the elections at risk. ”
Trump, his White House spokesman, and his Secretary of Commerce cast ballots by mail in Florida.
Of the new people Democrats have registered to vote by mail, about a third are classified as sporadic or inactive voters, of which only about 25 percent can be expected to participate in the polls, Peñalosa wrote in his memorandum of the June 23. But 40 percent of these infrequent voters voted in 2018 when they registered to vote by mail.
Trump Victory spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said the gap in the mail ballots does not mean that Democrats have an advantage. The Trump campaign has more than 155 employees in Florida and has reached 8.5 million voters one way or another.
“Republicans never left the Sunshine State after 2016,” Vaughn said in a written statement, and the President’s agenda “coupled with our unrivaled data-driven running game will guarantee another victory for President Trump and Republicans in November. “
But Trump’s rhetoric seems to be quenching Republican enthusiasm for voting by mail.
In Florida, the number of Republicans registered to cast ballots by mail has decreased by 186,000 since 2018, while Democrats have increased their number by 69,000, according to the latest state data. It’s a radical change for a party that won a Senate race in 1988 thanks to mail-in ballots.
The margin has increased since the March 17 presidential primaries, when Democrats had a 47,000-person lead to vote by mail.
Trump’s close ally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has not responded to requests to mail ballot forms to all voters. The Florida Democratic Party has asked local officials to take the initiative, and 18 counties have stepped up plans to do so. Many of them are large and medium counties where Democrats tend to live.
It is not just in Florida where the mail-in vote gap has widened between the two parties.
In the state of Michigan, Republicans burned mail-in registration forms this month in protest. In Texas, Rice University political science professor Bob Stein said support for voting by mail declined in real time among Republican voters in Harris County as he conducted a poll that assessed attitudes about methods voting, while Trump criticized voting by mail.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats cast a disproportionate number of mail ballots during the June 2 primaries. Wisconsin Democrats have focused more on voting by mail after a primary disaster, as have Georgia Democrats after that state’s troublesome June 9 primary.
The partisan split was uncovered in a POLITICAL / Morning Consult poll of voters nationwide that showed Republicans were less concerned than Democrats about voting in person during a pandemic, but were more concerned with electoral security due to mail-in ballots.
In Florida, a June poll by Tyson showed that an increasing number of Republican voters plan to vote in person on Election Day, while Democrats say they plan to cast their vote by mail.
Tyson is skeptical that the 300,000 vote-by-mail gap is a significant advantage for Democrats and predicted that those who voted by mail in the past will do so again. He said Republicans have increasingly taken advantage of early voting in person before Election Day.
Democrats need to register people because the “inconvenient fact” is that their voters are less and less willing to vote in person, she said, and the party will have to work to get these new voters to actually deliver the ballots.
“I don’t think it tells us anything,” said Tyson.