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New Voter Registration Falls During Coronavirus Lockdowns



IN JANUARY OF THIS year, new voter registrations exceeded the number of new registrants from the same month four years earlier and appeared on track to potentially outpace overall registration in 2016. But once the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing in the U.S., voter registration sharply declined in March and April as most cities and states entered lockdowns.

A new report from the Center for Election Innovation & Research details the dip in registrations in 12 states and the District of Columbia as the pandemic cut off traditional methods of signing up new voters like closures at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Plus, campaigns and political organizations were halting normal operations like canvassing and large public events where volunteers and staffers have easier access to potential new voters.

“The virus’ potential long-term impacts on voter registration are not yet clear. While new voter registration deficits may be difficult to overcome, they could spark a push to make up

for lost time as states reopen,” the report says.

Nearly 700,000 people registered to vote in January 2020, compared to almost 500,000 new registrants four years earlier. When the pandemic hit in March, the number declined to 600,000 and then plummeted to 200,000 in April. By contrast, about 700,000 new voters registered in both March and April of 2016. The substantial drop happened in a number of presidential battleground states – and many that also have competitive Senate races – including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

The report also warns about the potential challenges for people looking to vote by mail this fall. Elections officials are seeing an influx in mail-in ballot requests as some states ease the requirements for absentee voting due to the pandemic. More voters are looking to avoid the risks of voting in-person this election cycle, but the report points to the lingering hurdles posed by the viral outbreak.

“Long-time voters may also be affected, particularly as more voters choose the option of voting by mail. Without new address updates as a result of motor vehicle transactions, it may be difficult for voters to keep their contact information up-to-date.”

Without knowing the breakdown of newly registered voters, both parties are likely to suffer from the slowdown in registrations. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are both seeking to attract new voters as they vie for the White House this November.
Former President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory was helped in large part by mobilizing a coalition of new voters, especially more enthusiasm among younger voters. And Democrats relied heavily on voter enthusiasm and new registrations in traditionally GOP-leaning districts as they took back the House in 2018.

Still, the Center for Election Innovation & Research expects an uptick in new voter registration as outreach resumes with state reopenings. The group’s report pointed to efforts by the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, a group of 30 participating states that plan to reach out to 20 million people who are eligible to vote but currently not registered.

Plus, the ongoing nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death are starting to spark increased interest in new voter registrations, particularly among Democrats.

Several Democratic voter registration groups are seeing recent surges in signing up new voters, according to CNBC. One group that focuses on mobilizing Latino voters, Voto Latino, told the publication that it has exceeded its June goal and is on track to soon register 50,000 young Latino voters.

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