New voter registrations have nosedived during COVID-19

FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich and Kaleigh Rogers analyze data showing that the number of people registering to vote has fallen off a cliff during the coronavirus pandemic.
34:17 | 06/25/20

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Transcript for New voter registrations have nosedived during COVID-19
Hello and welcome to the 530 politics podcast I'm deal injury. At the beginning of this year enthusiasm to vote in the 20/20 presidential election. Was searching and so were new voter registrations. Then the Covert nineteen pandemic hit and the number of new registrations fell off. That's what two of my colleagues here at 538 found after analyzing the data in states where new voter registration numbers are available. Sort of take a look at what happened and what this all means from a fall. And also even explore some of the challenges that primary voters have faced while trying to cast ballots during the pandemic this spring. And you're need to do that our elections analyst Nathaniel rickets in a panel. You know and also with us is tack and politics reporter QB Rodgers tko. So before we get into some of the challenges with actual voting let's talk about these New York registrations because of course. A presidential year is usually a big time for. You know signing up new voters people who turn eighteen etc. so can you describe some of the number is behind the trend. That I described dot significant drop off in new registered voters Caylee. So Reese in a number of seats we looked at a local states plus DC just because those are the ones where the data was available. I think pattern every time leader in January and February. Compared to 2016. New voter registrations were actually. And and pandemic hit. Everything kind of get shut down and everything dropped significantly sound outlook at Florida for example. In February this year there was over a 100000 new voters registered and that's compared to around 87 passing in February when sixteen. The other April and only 21031. New voters registered compared to about 52000. When sixteenth you can see it like. The difference is significantly expected that. The number of new voters would be higher than it went sixteen both due to population growth and also just because of all the enthusiasts that that this election. And instead we've seen a major drop off because of Cote. Yet a drop off when you look at all the states together is really stark so for example a 192986. More new restaurants in January 2 point when he and then in January tweet sixteen. And there were 93249. More restaurants in February 2 points honey and interpret when he sixteen. But then in March their 441381. Fewer registrant and point money then and my sixteen. And in April which of course the first full month of the pandemic. Com new voter registrations were down 474930. In the east of access. So that's a pretty significant. Drop off I mean I think maybe. Beaten. Gas at some of the reasons happen like people are going to the DMV anymore but paint a picture of kind of the difference. Factors at play in wide voter registrations fell. It's a member combined UT think about. Would shut down with social distancing in quarantine. It's basically all the ways that people registered about so like you mentioned the DNE. Any kind of public government office that doesn't have to be open in many states they were closed down. Just public events like beer isn't festivals and high school's graduation ceremonies new citizens certainly is all these places where third party groups for example when norm. Normally try to sign up new voters. All checked out so we're left wing at a few states where you are registration or mailing registration. And that's pretty much. And did online and mail in registration hold out or is is also a story of like people were just occupied by other things and even. The places where people can sign up to vote or register to vote that don't involve being in person also suffered. Know those places didn't suffer as much it varies depending on the state you're looking at so on remote forms a registration IE online registration on to go up in some states to go down in some states but overall it remained. Greedy more or less steady. And that's compared to these big drops in the in person methods like the DMV. That we saw from our article on that's on the site has some great graphics by Alina whenever visual journalists Thomas pass the people should check it out. But even in the places where online registration increased for example Washington DC I think as the most prominent example. That's actually not usual in 2016. On line registration also increased over the course of the spring because DC holds its primary. In June so there's usually spike in registrations before primaries and ranked. So calm basically the story is that you know a lot fewer people are registering deities in person methods and it's not like they're actively turning toward. OIH I should go register on line now it's that those new registrations are showing up in the voter locals want. An online registration aren't even. Available in every state or eight. Right so 39 states plus Washington DC offer online voter registration all of oh Oklahoma in it will become fortieth soon. Com but to so that is most states in fairness and you can also register by mail in in the states that don't on line registration although obviously. Come. Spoke with when he wiser from the Brennan Center and in my view and she mentioned that are the reasons that might be because. At the DMV it's a release that are active process you're there are already public you have to be. And that someone is prompting new to get added to the voter roles at different then. Taking your own time and proactively take on line in her how to register. Or may even have to do that Neil and not something Philip. Send in and stamps it's just it's much more cumbersome to you practice and doing stuff entities. V opted by somebody in a scenario where you are already in the U. So this is our. I assume a big deal for civics groups like the League of Women Voters and so on that spend these election years like you sad setting up tables outside of fares grad to regions. Signing up new voters like RD speaking any measures to try to meet up for it. Are they able to get back out in public now that some states are opening up. But how do we X acts. The response to this major dip in new registrations to go out. From the group of women voters I. I spoke to one directors there and she said that they really been hit hard unity typically go to. Any citizen ceremonies and high schools like their beat. Dries that they do and some Republicans were taken off the table so they had something like 808 DE high school graduation and it could do this spring. And all of them cancel. They've really been struggling trying to turn to more online messaging directing people how to do it themselves which he says it's really going to be hard for third party groups to make up the difference on their own. I just but the song from by the Latino which has been largely an online first group from the beginning so they haven't had as much trouble and instant actually it's seen. Their numbers go up higher than expected as people become animosity between each is special with the protests happening. Yeah I mean doubt that. States have started to open back up Nathaniel have we seen any trend back towards either what we are seeing in 2016. Or were you know. At least or or even more as resigned January. I think that there's a chance. That we might not ever get all of the voters that we would have got had we not had pandemic it's really hard to predict obviously. But we have some cases there are we can look at some in Florida for example 2011 they passed a law that it really difficult for third party groups to run the registration statement a lot of those group just stopped operating and Florida all together. And in 2012 and spread that your they ended up sort of overturning act rule but by the time. Tiny election came around when he called the difference and not really been made up so. And 2008 more than a million new voters registered in Florida and in 2012 Hewitt and 900000 dead. That's GAAP and at a 100000 people at least not where potentially lost just from this law. Prevent teen their partners from offering weaving around England. So when we have something that's more widespread like a pandemic you can imagine that it might have some lingering axle embassy won't know until this is all over. Yeah exactly I think the million dollar question is are these quote unquote lost registrations actually lost or they just allayed. Com and I think that the Florida example shows that a lot of them may actually be lost for good idea the question is. Two people proactively decide initial election coming up I should registered to vote or do they just do it out of opportunity for example they're renewing their driver's license in April in the election year. And and and they sign up and yes those people who are rare renewing their driver's license will eventually go back to DMV to to get the transaction done bat. Com I think in a lot of cases it's just chance somebody asks you do you want to register to vote today and people say sure why not. Rather then actually doing so I think if people work. Com more actively seeking out voter registration opportunities they would be registering online which were seen has not increased time. And of course the other big question here for elections watchers is going to be do you you know. Is there a partisan fact associated. With these lost or delayed register right I mean as we discussed. When you think of things like graduation people turning eighteen we're talking about new young voters and we know from looking at the polls that those people skew heavily towards. The Democratic Party even if they don't see themselves Democrats are more progressive or liberal. You know can we look at this data now and say that went oh this is bad for Democrats or is that just too early. That demographic data is pretty hard to come by it's already you know as IQ you mentioned only twelve places that have did on directions at all and demographic breakdowns are even rare to come by. On the one thing that does seem to be consistently true is that new restaurants tend to be younger. Com so we spoke with Kevin Morris at the Brennan Center who kindly sent us some data. That found that I'm 57%. Have new registry ends in January through April 20 sixteenths or four years ago. Were under the age of forty. In Georgia that number was sixty for 65%. Under forty years old. From you and of course this isn't surprising because most people who were newly registering are going to be people who knew although the vote you know and turning eighteen is kind of one of the main ways people become all of them to vote. Com. We will say that. Non partisan wise obviously some states register by party and the there wasn't like a consistent pattern of them being. Disproportionately new Russians I mean being disproportionately democratic or Republican they did disproportionately tend to be unaffiliated with either party. Now that's kind of an inconclusive finding because unaffiliated voters don't necessarily mean they're swing voters could just be that people. Don't like to publicly associated with a party we know for example that a lot of young voters. Com are just choosing not to identify with the party so of course the fact that there unaffiliated and young is probably related. Arm but as you mentioned Galen you know younger voters do tend to vote democratic. So if I had to say that one party was disadvantage from that's I was as Democrats but I do think it's too early to tell. Not least because we don't know whether these people are eventually going to register or not. One question I have here just looking at the data today you had accessed here is like why only. Eleven states plus DC why isn't every state publishing that are part of registration. Good question Galen. States please publish new voter registration day. Now let's say that you know every state does have data on the total number of registered voters and you can kind of infer from the changes I'm month month or quarter to quarter. Com what the you know how many new people are registering but that's a net change. I'm so it you know would be all the new registrant minus all the people who are purged her move in things like that and we were specifically looking at new registrant. So and and only eleven states plus Washington DC contacted as far as Tel. Are so we will keep acting as agencies if voter registration as states are reopening etc. take back up. But let's move on and talk about some of these challenges. Not with registering but actually. Voting this spring in primary elections this spring we've had the opportunity to see what voting blocs like during and the elections have been primaries by and martz of turnout has been significantly lower than it would be in the general election. But nonetheless we've seen Election Day after election today. Where voters say they haven't received the mail ballots that they requested you also seem lines of voters waiting for hours after polling locations have been consolidated. So what is going on here and are we ready for a follow election that we'll see much higher so. Ready get to sellout the examples dating back to say march but because there was a primary this week. Let's talk about what's happened in the competitive races in new York and Kentucky. So Nathaniel what did voting look like there wasn't any better than some of the past elections that we've seen where there were long lines and people had difficulty getting outs. I mean you know every state has success stories and some knots a success stories and New York in Kentucky or no difference so for example in Phnom Louisville, Kentucky so Kentucky and famously. Consolidated down 20 just one polling place in one person polling place for many counties including large ones like where the cities of Louisville and Lexington are located. And Tom those people a lot of people predicted that's and that could lead to long lines. And do it though there were no long lines and in Lexington their work. Thompson again kind of bitterness in New York I saw some scattered com reports of lines I also heard a lot of people who are not work on getting their ballots at their request and but look this is largely become par for the course unfortunately for primary elections are in a pandemic you see the same things happening over and over again which are. A lot of people apply for Epstein ballots for obvious reasons. This over loads the system that most states have because they're just not used to getting that kind of volume of nasty requests. As a result Epstein bouts take a long time to get mailed out in many cases they lost their requests can lost and they pallets don't get mail all. On at the same time for the in person polling places. Com poll workers are dropping out because they're afraid of catching code in nineteen as a result polling places have to be consolidated and as a result. Outlines form and this of course is exacerbated by people who didn't receive their apps to bouts going to vote in person. Which leads to higher than expected in person Iran voting volumes. Bombs that this is an issue in I would say most states that have held their primaries you know going back all the way to Wisconsin which ensure a lot of listeners remember. Com but also states like Maryland. Nevada Pennsylvania. I'm Ohio. Excuse me Kentucky and its New York you know have all experiencing similar problems com. So you know it seems like. We know what the problems are and hopefully State's her observing that in taking snaps for the general election but town. It's a concern for sure. It will say just anecdotally. A number of my friends here in New York. Apply for absentee ballots to trying to avoid having little pools and person didn't receive them in time. And ended up having to vote in person. Or a couple actually. Got them that kind of the last man actually see them on Tuesday and it felt like there wasn't an uptrend didn't trust that they would be able to return it. With enough time for it to count and it going to the polls anyway so there's a number of ways that is can kind of breakdown. Yet are we to judge off our warrants problem people are receiving network and its. It is now unfortunately you know it's just very hard to measure a negative like how many people don't receive their ballots. So there isn't good data for this question especially in a statement level I do have a few pieces of enacting I think are informative. So in the Ohio primary six counties around Dayton Ohio. Sad that about 4500. People who requested an absentee ballot. Now weren't mailed one because their request forms lacked essential information. Mom in addition in Delaware County Pennsylvania. I'm officials. Admitted that they just ran out of time to send out ballots to people who requested them they said that 400 requests simply went unfulfilled. And then another 6000 ballots they sent out the day before the election which basically. Kenneth Keeley was leading to. Doesn't leave any time to for the voters actually vote and so those. Ballots even if the people count them were probably unpalatable. On so if you extrapolate these numbers from just individual counties albeit fairly large counties but. If you extrapolate that to a statewide level it seems likely that tens of thousands of people. Com in these two states at least didn't receive their casting ballots in time about. And are we able to then. Kind of look at the overall data and see whether or not turnout is down as a result. Deli hot what is turnout looked like during this primary season. That's a great question and done it's kind of all over the map concept Kentucky looks like it's going to have record or near record turnout Tom so the current estimate is that more than a million people voted in the Kentucky primary which should be. About 30% turnout rate of the eligible population. This is right on par with the 2008 turnout rate which was 29%. And it significantly higher than the 2016 turn out rate. Which was 21%. And that's Perrier Markell T because and Kentucky into my sixteen both Republican and democratic primaries were competitive. I'm of course this year neither one wants so even though I should take presidential primaries. They can have major senate primary in Kentucky of course. But but that is pretty remarkable and may have had something to do with the fact that Kentucky made it easier to vote absentee overall because. He didn't even as some people didn't get their ballots on time though I haven't heard if things going out in now in Kentucky. On Kentucky normally requires an excuse to vote absentee and they wave that excuse this time so it's just a lot easier to to go to mail ballot. I'm I will say though in some other states. Turnout was down. I'm from 2016 and again I could be due to a number of factors including the competitiveness of the election. Com but a lot of the states where com that experience problems on June 2 in particular such as Maryland. Did see significant decreases in turn out so. You know again it's difficult to know what the scale of these problems is in each state so maybe some states this really did depress turnout because people were not able to vote. I mean in other states like Kentucky it wasn't as big a factor. Com. By it's just a lot of and it did unfortunately. Dia when it comes to you in person voting. During the primaries we've heard you know are from some critics' claims of voter suppression in cities with large class populations like Atlanta. And Milwaukee there were some current concern about Lavelle. And those are places where receding polling locations consolidated. As you mention polling workers not wanting to show up during a pandemic. Voters had to wait in very long lines for hours in Atlanta outside of Atlanta and we sought. People waiting for three hours or more we saw something similar in Milwaukee. What's going on I mean is it just that. Local elections officials are not kind of sneaking up for the fact that polling workers were dropping out and they're not kind of like putting in the hard work to keep polling locations. And war is there something more sinister going on here I think a couple things one is that some decisions. Treaty coated it and were deciding not with the context. And and I are people lit. Trying to vote by elevating unable to lying about a person having to spread and it happened poll workers drop all these problems. That maybe we weren't anticipating. And it just it's important to note that even if there isn't anything sinister going on. And it's just ineptitude. That result is still people not being able to vote which is a problem. Whether it was intentional or not so that's the thing we need to address especially as we head into the general election. I think that it's interesting that one other problems with Trent spam mail in voting hasn't really practical one which is literally just like. Having enough paper to print the ballots are having machines that kind of opened envelopes and pollute balance. And make it easier and faster exit to make ballots counted. These are really practical things that. Are difficult to actually she did have money you have to get. I and you have to hire people to work and sort through the stuff and it's something that nobody really anticipated until you know march. Yet to me I totally agree you know I think that the hang amity comes on when people hear the term voter suppression a assume that. Com someone is suppressing those votes. But I don't think that certainly has to be true or the pandemic can be suppressing votes you know people who weren't able to vote because of the lines because that in kept their ballot you know and their votes worse still suppressed and that is a problem. But there is not evidence that there is something sinister going on as Zealand sad you know I think the election officials are trying to do. The past they can. Terry under the circumstances that can panic. You know I think that. A lot. Com. There's clearly a problem in the fact that urban areas in particular are getting hit hard by pulling consolidations. And that tends to be where. Dollars of collared Democrats live and you know it's a lot of these calls of voter suppression. Com but you know again I don't think that the areas are being specifically targeted because. Com it's just question of resources and things like that counseling it's important to distinguish you know there are decisions made by statewide election officials like you know. Com in Kentucky and consolidate one point place provocation but then yeah on the local low there a lot of things going in it's not that there even. Not trying as hard as they could be as he put it to you and it's just that they don't have the resources in some places. Or heavily by Cody nineteen and others and their fourth harder to find poll workers for them. Other places might just be understaffed underfunded relative to other places I think there's a wealth disparity there. New some urban verses from suburban precincts. So you know these are all problems. But you know I don't think there's anything sinister. Yeah I think it's also worth noting that a lot of problems mercy rule are things that. Voter access act advocates have been pushing for so. You know. Recommending that every state how online voter registration available for example but some things are not anything that anyone. I just pushing for a beforehand like expanding Millen noting that the people that like we really to increase manhood and because we didn't anticipate that there was going to be any recent. When everybody will want to mailing their balance. And so that this is that couldn't have been anticipated and were released struggling with a new challenge. So looking ahead to the fall clearly there have been. Some challenges this spring. Is there any reason to expect that things will grow. Better are we seeing secretaries of state across the country or municipalities. Local elections officials. Taking steps now to make sure it that people can vote if they want to in the fall. Oh there are steps taken another's meetings happening. The state level in many states they're calling expert asking what can we do you apparently in this. Training cobble together funding I think that. Without the resources and it's going to be really hard to an action this going any better in November. It's just. That's as the image it takes resources to. Increase the people increased the equipment just to get everything ready. And yet at this point it's like Agilent pessimistic but it's really hard and action everything and beauty due in November. Yeah you know I don't. I am I wouldn't bet on things going smoothly exactly but I do think that there are two reasons to be optimistic one is that for most states it will be the second time in the held an auction during the penned an act because these primaries are kind of a trial run and obviously it is. Huge problem that if people are disenfranchised and an election but I think that in a general election it is com Mara problem. As a lot of parents are competitive or to lower turnout auction anyway. And then the second thing is that there's just more time to prepare so I know that some states including for example might constitute a Massachusetts which is expanding com and they're planning to expand mail voting. I'm stations have time to prepare so they're passing laws to to expand now voting. They are giving those laws like Kenny those claws off to election officials and local officials with plenty of times that they know that they have you know they have to do this and make these adaptations of states especially ex cons and which held its election early April just three weeks and the pandemic had no time to prepare. For the primary. So hopefully that won't be true for urging. For November. Because. There is meant no harm and many months to prepare that's that I think their probably are going to be some states that. Heated through non political gridlock or just kind of sticking their hands hands. Aren't going to take the necessary precautions and that's going to be a problem. The and just wrapping up this year you are one thing that we've seen during these primaries is that when people vote right now it oftentimes takes longer to get. Results and so we did have primary elections this week on Tuesday. We are still waiting for many of results of those elections because so many people did vote by mail. But I don't one. Disband this podcast without at least asking. What results we do now gone. And weather and out we have an answer to. The question in the Democratic Party about whether the progressives would be successful in New York Kentucky. Yes again and I think you know your point about taking a long time to count the ballots in November is such an important one and one test people that because. The increase in mail voting basically every state I think in the that is voted during the pandemic and it's primary senate majority of its votes be cast by an ill. Com it's going to take time to count the votes we might not know who wins the presidency on election night itself which would be a change from years past. An additional election results as they stand on that night are going to change. Com the number of precincts reporting is kind of outdated figure in the world. Mail voting because the precincts are in person three cents. And you can have a 100% in person precincts reporting make it stop thousands upon thousands of male votes left to count. So it'll be really stings he has states panelists especially if someone like president Tom. On two sides to claim victory based on early returns yours in eighteen he claimed that there was voter fraud going on on on the test the votes kept on counting Democrats gaining. I'm suddenly changed but Tom month solution that some states town might take. Which is one thing the Kentucky did this week in the primaries is that Amy might just not release results com and so. Saint week out so I'm most counties in Kentucky her several counties and Turkey including the ones with the most voters lose acts and are. I'm are releasing their results for the June 23 primary until June 30. So we basically don't know who is winning in Kentucky. That US senate primary between Charles Booker the progressive endorsed candidate and Amy McGrath. The column Washington democratic establishment endorsed candidate it looks close right now based on returns in on some small counties but like. I think there are only about 50000 votes counted there and it could be as many as 600000. That they can't cast in the race so we have really now you know the next ten and Lenovo returns obviously be huge there. In New York on there's actually a law that says that Epstein outs can't be counted until a week after the election. And I think that's because com asked about a lack trickle in late as long as the postmark on date is by election nine. So they discount them kind of all want that and and as a result we know the results of in person voting in New York but not a Stephen and so again the results are still subject to change. We do you know that a percent of Alexandria county court has won her primary quite handily I'm she was being taken on by a pro business Democrat. Tom we also knows that. It looks like the progressive challenger in New York sixteenth congressional district and Jamal Coleman. Who took on a percent of angle and it looks like he's going to win he's claimed victory but the race hasn't been called so which probably. I'm to see what the final outcome is there. And then there also several close primaries com for example in New York's twelfth congressional district Carolyn Maloney is a pre establishment and comment. Who isn't a close race right now past council decide that. Com Camden are also several other outstanding primaries in for example fifteenth district in the seventeenth district which are two open seats where com. Her progressives are going up against more moderate in even conservative. Are so light. We should expect on Election Day this fall we're just gonna have to be patient in terms of forming our. Narratives about what happened in new York and Kentucky on election accepting you for not. Rundown Nathaniel but I think that's it for now and kill your ornament endured while relatively new to the 530 team. Answer welcomes a fact it is their first time on the 530 politics podcast it's great Italian me. And it you know you're obviously tracking. Politics and tack and a big part of tact in politics this year is going to be how people vote I'm just curious what kinds of things are you. Booking act and exploring as we head into the fall on things that you're going to be attracting. Rick someone that I was ingested in even before the pandemic hit although I think it's kind of even more important now is the kind of voting technology that is is witches. Hold vast variety of different types of machines some of which. Election security experts say there are buying and and others think they are a terrible idea should be using that we still use. In certain states and jurisdictions and so that's sort of patchwork. Election cat can cause problems at the past times and I'm curious. Whether the added pressure of a pandemic flu make those problems and more parents. Slime and interest look into that and very. Sort of diverted to focusing on hope it for the last couple months but I'm eager to get back netbooks. The election. Yeah and it seems like in fact Atlanta. Georgia in general had some of those problems right where they switched. Voting machines and there was a total meltdown where. All of the machines were broke and ordered the people who were running them didn't have the correct training. And couldn't work them into people were just waiting for ever and it was more because of the machines and anything about co. Exactly those machines if there's any kind of hit out they can constantly long linings and sometimes they don't have direct redundancies in place to make up for the out of the machine at work or something goes rob. And business especially troublesome if they're using its machines for the first time typically like election officials will want to get any technology. Nearly they have immediate local election or me he a mid term. Where voter turnout is a little lower sleeping worker that he having it in. When each funny it is. Just asking for trouble unfortunately. Our while I look far today you're more reporting from view on how our election elections administration is going. And of course they cuteness and offered turning us today as while. They skim. Saint. My name is Dillinger Tony child is in the virtual control room you can get in touch by emailing us at pod cast at 530 dot com you can also of course treated us with questions or comments. If you're a fan of the show leave as a reading or review in the apple podcast store actually doing it gives a reading. Or you can tells of an about the show that's always great to base for listening and policies. I. I.

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