Today’s New York Times article on the effect of HB 1355 on the activity of third party voter registration groups misses the most important voter registration story in Florida. The more important story is the fact that voter registration from all sources has crashed, from the heights leading up to the elections of 2000 and 2004. Maybe HB 1355 is seriously restricting the ability of third party groups to register voters. But, why not an article about why the number of voter registrations in Florida over the 2005-08 cycle fell 54% compared to the 01-04 cycle, or 36% compared to the 97-00 cycle? Here are the basic patterns, gleaned from a great set of reports on the Florida Elections Division web site.
First, I simply took the monthly totals in these reports and plotted the totals against month in the four-year cycle between presidential elections. Here is that picture.
A little explanation: I have broken down the data into four periods, each corresponding to the four-year period proceeding the elections of 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. The thin solid line shows the number of new voter registrations filed in Florida for the four years leading up to the 2000 presidential election — 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. The dashed line traces out the same numbers for the period leading up to the 2004 election; the dotted line pertains to the period before the 2008 election; and the dark solid line traces out the number of registrations each month leading up to the 2012 general election. With the exception of the time series associated with 2012, there are 48 data points represented for each election. For 2012, the most recent report is for February 2012, so the line ends there.
Two things stand out in this figure. The first is that in 2000, 2004, and 2008, there was a big peak toward the end of the year, right before the general election. (There were smaller peaks early in 2000 and 2004, corresponding with the presidential preference primaries, but not in 2008, or apparently, in 2012.) The second thing that stands out is how the time series for 2000 and 2004 are at much higher levels than the two time series for 2008 and 2012. Indeed, close inspection reveals where the world changed — February 2006, where the dotted line takes a sharp dive downward, never to join the time series for 2000 and 2004 again. Thus, the first thing that needs to be said is that, compared to 2000 and 2004, voter registration levels are at surprisingly low levels in Florida. What happened? I wish the New York Times would write about that. Unfortunately, there’s not a high-profile law to blame, so the explanation is going to take some work.