In the wake of their 2016 election drubbing, Florida Democrats are proposing legislation to establish a text message-based election alert system that would notify voters when balloting is underway.
- HB 409 would require county elections supervisors to sent texts when voting begins
- Daytona Beach FL Rep. Patrick Henry sponsored the bill
- Will struggle with a Republican legislature
Under the legislation, HB 409 by Rep. Patrick Henry (D-Daytona Beach), election supervisors would be required to send texts on the first day of early voting as well as on Election Day. The messages would also direct voters to their local polling place.
Democratic turnout was robust during Florida's 2016 early voting period but all but collapsed on Election Day, when Republicans flooded the polls and delivered the state to President Trump. Many progressive-minded voters, some Democrats have suggested, were unaware of where and when to cast their ballots.
"People get discouraged if they can't go down the street because it's not in their precinct or they don't know exactly where their precinct is," said Florida A&M University student Osbee Sampson. "So having something to actually tell them, 'this is where you need to go at this time, today's the voting day,' so that definitely would increase numbers of voting."
Sampson acknowledged campus enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket didn't translate into significant turnout.
The bill, however, faces difficult prospects in a state Capitol controlled by Republicans. During the fall campaign, Gov. Rick Scott pointedly refused to extend the state's voter registration deadline, which fell during the days following Hurricane Matthew.
"If you...whether it's the registration date, everybody has had a lot of time," Scott told reporters in October, days before he was rebuffed by a federal judge.
The argument against an election alert system is a similar one: that Floridians have ample time and resources to find out for themselves where and when they can vote. Still, the legislation's supporters say leveraging technology to communicate with voters can only improve democracy.
"All of us, we're on our phones," said Raven Riggins, who cast her first ballot -- for Hillary Clinton -- in November. "So, if something comes up on our phones, of course we're going to see it. When we see it, it's marked in our minds, so now we know where to go, when to go, what time to go, so it would definitely make a bigger difference."