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Florida voter-registration update

September 21st, 2020, 1:52pm by Sam Wang

In Florida the voter registration deadline is two weeks away, on October 5. Florida is a critical state for both the presidency and state legislative control over redistricting. My team at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project has determined that Florida is one of a handful of states where elections (as opposed to reform) are the main path to achieving bipartisan control over redistricting.

Today I report on the best way to make an impact in Florida. There are a few ways forward, though they are less district-specific and more costly than I had originally hoped.

Throughout this campaign season I have emphasized the possibility of registering hundreds of thousands of re-enfranchised ex-felons. Originally 1.4 million were made eligible by a state constitutional amendment, but the legislature reduced this by more than half by requiring that fines, fees, and restitution be paid first. About 600,000 people are left who are still eligible.

Generally, the most critical state legislative districts in any state are those with the closest margins. An expedited route for fine-forgiveness and registration has been established in three counties: Miami-Dade (5 key districts), Palm Beach (2 key districts), and Hillsborough (3 key districts). Can these voters be registered in time? There are efforts to do so.

In particular, there is a serious effort in Miami-Dade County. Dozens of pro bono attorneys are ready to help, and former prosecutor-turned state Senator Jason Pizzo, the public defender, and the county government are working together. They still need an organizational structure to persuade and recruit people to register, and a funding mechanism. This is a highly worthwhile project for the long term. Anyone interested in helping their current efforts should get in touch.

If you want to help in time for this year’s election, I suggest that you support local political parties in those three counties. They are now added to the redistricting fundraising link on the right sidebar. [ActBlue] [WinRed]

I should finally note that I have some reservations about supporting an organization that I have mentioned before, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. They have registered 4,000 voters at an expense of $4 million. This is a worthwhile goal, but it is specifically targeted at clearing the payment of fines, fees, and restitution. FRRC is not prioritizing the rapid voter registration of people whose path is already clear. That said, they might still be a good bet for the Presidential race, at least compared to the cost of a media buy in such a resource-saturated state. We’re talking tens of thousands of votes, not hundreds of thousands. But it might make a difference.

My understanding is that FRRC can reach re-enfranchised people for an average of about $500. They are not what I was writing about, on the grounds that they are doing it statewide, not locally. From a voter power standpoint in the Presidential race, Florida is certainly in the top 10. And Florida results will be in on Election Night, which could be a big deal because a clear win could prevent a drawn-out conflict. I note that Bloomberg has recruited a number of donors to go all-in on supporting FRRC.

Tags: 2020 Election · Moneyball · Redistricting

19 Comments so far ↓

  • ArcticStones

    If only Amendment 4 to Florida’s Constitution had been worded in a manner that specifically precluded the stunts that Republicans pulled to nullify the will of Florida’s citizens!

    • Sam Wang

      My understanding from talking to people in Florida is that this problem was known in advance. However, including forgiveness of fees, fines, and restitution would have been a tough sell to voters. I suppose it could have been separated for purposes of voting.

    • Pechmerle

      I’m glad to know that at least they didn’t unknowingly encounter this issue.

      As for separating it into two voter referendums, I don’t think they would have found that an attractive choice either. Voters tend to get confused when there are multiple initiatives/referendums on the ballot on the same basic topic.

      This is so true that opponents of an initiative measure will every so often get up a similar but less effective initiative on a topic for the very purpose of confusing the voters, maybe getting them to vote for something that still sounds good but is actually a less effective change, and just plain increasing voter fatigue. That latter factor causes a significant fraction of voters to just vote no on everything, as the path of least cognitive resistance. This is important when an initiative requires super-majority of 2/3 or 60% to pass, which is typically true of state constitutional amendments by initiative.

  • Joseph Bland

    Thanks for all your work on behalf of US democracy, Sam! I just recommended your site during a Zoom session held by 9th district Congressman Dr. Ami Bera here in Sacramento, CA. This latest “pointer” has made me think hard about sending a check of some kind to what looks like an excellent place to lend a hand. I’m definitely not made of money, so I try to be extra careful where I choose to make a contribution.

  • ArcticStones

    Is it viable for a few of America’s democratically-minded billionaires – Bloomberg, Buffett, Gates or others – to issue a guarantee for all fees owed by Florida’s ex-felons?

    It seems to me that this would solve the problem.

    Would this not enable every former Florida felon to register to vote? And would this not put the onus on the State of Florida to find out how much each of those new voters actually owes – so that i can collect its money?

    As it stands, it seems to me that Floridians who have served their time but are still disenfranchised find themselves in a rather Kafkaesque situation; many of them cannot find out how much they owe, and they risk perjury if they sign a statement that they owe no fees.

    • Pechmerle

      Creative! But I don’t think it would work.

      I think that Florida’s Republican administration would decline to accept such a guarantee. And I think that they would also insist that the burden by law is on the ex-felon to establish how much he/she owes, and would (already have) disavow any state obligation to supply the figure to an ex-felon who doesn’t have it. (Local election officials are trying, but it’s tough sledding.)

      This topic came up in one of the Eleventh Circuit dissents. The dissenting judge pointed out that, shamefully, the State argued in its brief that not knowing the amounts didn’t matter anyway (no harm, no foul) because the indigent petitioners can’t afford it anyway!

      But politically, for Bloomberg and others to make the guarantee offer might be useful pressure on Florida even it did not actually get implemented.

    • Pechmerle

      Florida Republican administration reacts against groups helping ex-felons pay their fines so they can register to vote:

      “Florida wants an investigation into fund-raising that helps ex-felons become eligible to vote.” NYT, today.

    • Sam Wang

      I wonder if that is a brushback to get ex-felons spooked out of registering.

    • Pechmerle

      More obviously, it’s a brushback against the entities offering to help ex-felons pay the amounts due. Threatening those entities with criminal investigation, alleging e.g. bribery (purportedly vote buying – which of course it’s not). And at a minimum intending to harass those entities with litigation to disrupt their work in what is an urgent time frame for this year’s election.


    Why not give to the Florida Rights Restoration clinic?

    I called them and asked how they got around the problem of returning citizens not knowing what they owed and they said a lot of their work is with folks with shorter sentences, and those folks either know the amount, or can easily find out with help.

    I haven’t done a lot of research on them, but they answered my call and seemed on top of it. Plus they already have a funding model set up!


    Oops, I didn’t read the last paragraph of your post, where you answer my question. I see that their goal is slightly different from the one you articulated. It was my understanding that the FRRC is doing some expediting, but I could be wrong.

    • Sam Wang

      Yes, my understanding is that they can reach re-enfranchised people for an average of about $500. They are not what I was writing about on the grounds that they are doing it statewide. But from a voter power standpoint, Florida is certainly in the top 10. And Florida will results will be in on election night, which could be a big deal because it would prevent a drawn-out conflict.

  • Every Mann

    This is what I have been thinking for weeks. Though I keep reading how we may not know the winner for many days until all absentee ballots are counted, Florida results will be in on the night of November 3rd. If Biden does in fact win Florida, that pretty much seals the deal.

  • 538_Refugee

    Why not go with the headline that provides some amusement value? ;)

    “Gaetz calls for election bribery probe of Bloomberg over pledge to pay Florida felons’ fines”

  • Stephen Huegel

    I emailed the democratic parties in the 3 counties noted in Dr Y’s 9/21 post and received the following that might be of help to others trying to assist in voter registration in those 10 key districts. Palm Beach informed me that they will investigate same purpose organizations in their area.

    Steve Simeonidis (


    Thank you so much for your help!

    I would recommend:

    Engage Miami
    United We Dream

    They are amazing organizations!



    Sorry to clog the thread, but I can’t find a “contact” link to ask you about this. I’ve made a couple donations to the redistricting pool and each time the split donation to Miami-Dade County fails to go through. Any way to fix that?

  • Stuart Levine

    Because the FRRC is a constituent part of Act Blue, contributions are not tax deductible. However, the IRS has indicated, in essence, that had it been organized as a separate entity it likely would have been a 501(c)(3), with contributions being deductible.

  • Jerold Paulson

    There is one week left to FL voter registration.
    Could somebody provide a link to an organization that will hire X extra organizers to focus on eligible ex-felon registrations for this week if I and my friends donate Y dollars?

    (I understand there’s overhead involved, but if the organizers’ salaries are say $600 each for the week, I’d expect to be able to pay maybe $1,200 per)

    I’m not looking to make a general purpose donation to United We Dream, Engage Miami, etc. (neither of which, as far as I could determine, are actually doing targeted ex-felon voter reg in FL), but want my donation dollars to go specifically to that program. Nor am I looking to make a general donation to a county democratic party that’s not going to up their organizer ranks based on my contribution.

    If I can’t find this I’ll just continue to donate to Biden and the Moneyball Senate races.

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