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Coronavirus Pushes Florida Democrats To Get People To Vote By Mail

Cartoon of voting slip in outgoing mail
Vote by mail

The Florida Democratic Party is putting a major effort into getting potential voters to register by mail. That comes in part because of the coronavirus and despite glitches reported in the state registration system.

The state party has begun texting 1 million of the state’s more than 5 million registered Democrats to get out of the habit of going to the ballot box on election day.

Frances Swanson is head of the party’s Rapid Response Squad. She says the party has been promoting vote-by-mail for years, but the pandemic is making it more critical than ever.

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"It’s changing our lives. It’s critical to have a safe and secure way for people to vote remotely. And vote by mail is a big answer for that," she said.

When asked if this isn’t the best timing because of everyone’s preoccupation with the pandemic, Swanson said no.

"There was record Democratic vote by mail, and the turnout the day of was dramatically less than it was in 2016," Swanson said. "So I think this is something that is on people’s minds. You can’t wait until the month before an election to start engaging people, so I think it’s really important that we are laying some of this groundwork now."

There have been some reported glitches in the state’s online voter registration system, and Swanson said the party has a team is trying to make sure people can register online or vote by mail.

The state and national Democratic parties are adapting to function digitally. For example,in late January, the DNC bought tens of millions of cell phone numbers across the country, including Florida, to improve voter contact. State party officials say they've already registered 54,000 voters this cycle.

In 2018, the Florida Democratic Party began a program to increase vote-by-mail participation and helped sign up more than 578,000 new Democrats to vote remotely.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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