Voter registrations are way, way down during the pandemic

The spring of a presidential election year is often a busy time for adding new voters to the rolls, and a recent report from the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve voter turnout and election security, shows registration numbers were even stronger in early 2020 than early 2016. But things changed dramatically in March, at least in the 12 places where FiveThirtyEight or CEIR were able to obtain data on new voters, a category that includes first-time voters, voters who recently moved to the state and, in some states (Texas, for example) even voters who moved between counties in the state.1

Consider Florida, for example, where 109,859 new voters registered in February of this year, compared to 87,351 registrants in February of 2016. But in April 2020, only 21,031 new voters registered, compared with 52,508 in 2016. The same pattern holds in 10 other states, plus Washington, D.C.: Each one registered fewer new voters in April 2020 than in April 2016, including in states where online voter registration is available…

Based on the timing, it seems safe to assume that COVID-19 had something to do with the drop-off, but there’s data to back that assumption up, too. In addition to how many new voters register, some states track how these new voters get their name on the books. In 2016 and in the pre-pandemic months of 2020, in-person registration at places like departments of motor vehicles made up a large plurality, or even a majority, of new registrants in the four places3 for which we have data on how new voters are registering. But after the pandemic caused most states to shutter many government offices, those registrations dwindled. By contrast, remote registrations (e.g., online or by mail) held relatively steady.4