Voter registration closes; which party fared best?


Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:24 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Democrats had a substantial voter registration edge in the 2008 presidential election in Florida.

With the registration books having closed Tuesday evening for 2012, the question becomes whether they will be able to duplicate that advantage, which played a role in helping Barack Obama carry the state in the last election.

The final results from this year’s registration efforts will not be known immediately, but indications are it will be a challenge for Democrats to maintain the edge they enjoyed in 2008, when they had a nearly 700,000-voter advantage.

In the last presidential election, Florida’s 11.4 million voters included 4.8 million Democrats, 4.1 million Republicans and 2.5 million voters registered with no-party affiliation or in minor parties.

As of this August, the Democrats had 4.63 million voters, the Republicans 4.2 million and there were 2.8 million no-party and minor-party voters.

The Democrats represented 41 percent of the state’s 11.6 million voters — a drop of 1 percent since 2008. The Republicans remained at 36 percent of the electorate, with the no-party voters growing by 2 percent to 24 percent.

Republicans have touted the numbers to argue it shows that Democrats may have lost more than 200,000 voters out of the 700,000-voter edge they enjoyed in 2008.

Others say it is too premature to draw any valid conclusions from this year’s final registration numbers.

“It’s apples to oranges,” said University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, who studies the registration numbers.

Smith said a more valid comparison is lining up the August 2008 numbers with the most recent 2012 numbers. And Smith said those numbers show the Democrats exceeding their 2008 efforts.

Smith said the Democrats’ efforts this year have been aided by the fact that Obama’s campaign has had an organized field effort in the state since 2011, in contrast to 2008 when the Democrats, who went through a primary process that year and did not organize until closer to the election.

However, Smith said the registration numbers have been impacted by changes in the state election laws made by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 that added new restrictions on third-party groups, like the League of Women Voters, that run registration drives.

The restrictions were deemed so burdensome by the voters groups, like the LWV, that they went nearly a year without trying to register voters until a court ruling lifted some of the requirements earlier this year.

State Democratic Party officials said the party and its allies have been working hard to make up for lost time and they also pointed to the Obama campaign’s extensive field operation in Florida.

“While there is no denying the GOP’s voter suppression law had an impact on voter registration this cycle, Florida Democrats have built the strongest, largest ground game this state has ever seen,” said David Bergstein, a party spokesman. “We took unprecedented efforts to train our volunteers and supporters to comply with these onerous restrictions and register the voters we need to win. We are confident heading into the final stretch of the campaign.”

Bergstein also noted that the Democrats have been substantially outpacing the Republicans in recent months in registration efforts, including registering more than 43,000 new party members in September — which would be added on top of the August numbers.

Meanwhile, the Republicans say the “ground game” for Mitt Romney’s campaign is also producing “impressive results” in Florida and other key states.

“Boosted by Gov. Romney’s stellar debate performance, our absentee and early voting operation is robust and in full gear,” Rick Wiley, the political director for the Republican National Committee, said in a memo Tuesday. “And the enthusiasm is on our side, just as voters in more than 30 states begin casting ballots.”

One of the areas of concentration for the Republicans is the absentee ballots.

In Florida, he noted, the requests for absentee ballots from Republicans were outpacing the Democratic requests with 43.4 percent of the requests coming from the GOP and 39 percent from Democrats.

Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign in Florida, noted that the campaign has made seven times more phone calls to voters than in 2008 and 59 times more “door knocks than this time in ’08.” She said the campaign has made over 9 million voter contacts since the spring.

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