Automatic voter registration proposed in state Senate

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 30, 2016, 8:36 PM EST

Despite aggressive efforts by progressive activists to register voters this fall, turnout in the 2016 general election hit a 20-year low. The statistic is helping spur legislation that would automatically register Floridians to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's license.

  • 2016 election saw lowest voter turnout in decades
  • Sen. Jeff Clemens is leading automatic voter registration for Florida
  • New measures would tie registration to driver's licenses  

The measure, filed this week by Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth), would expand upon the federal 'Motor Voter' law, which allows people to register to vote by submitting an application at licensing offices. Under Clemens' bill, no additional paperwork would be needed.

Automatic registration could dramatically expand Florida's voting rolls, potentially leading to increased turnout. Democrats have been particularly disheartened by this year's steep decline in turnout among young Floridians, one of the party's key voting blocs - and one that's notoriously unreliable.

"It would help out a lot of people, especially my age, who are coming to get a license and just want to automatically be registered," said Rachel Kretz, an FSU junior who spent Wednesday afternoon trading her New Jersey driver's license for one more appropriate to her new life in Florida.

Perhaps indicative of the experience of many college-aged Floridians, Kretz admitted she didn't vote in this year's election, but not because she didn't want to.

"We just didn't know where to register, what to do, and especially being from New Jersey, I just didn't vote at all," she said.

Because increased voter turnout has traditionally benefited Democrats, however, the automatic registration bill could face an uphill climb in the Republican-dominated Florida Capitol. As recently as October, Gov. Rick Scott refused to extend the state's voter registration deadline to account for inconveniences caused by Hurricane Matthew. Scott was ultimately overruled by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker, who wrote that "no right is more precious than having a voice in our democracy."