Is Trump's Fraud Commission to Blame for Rise in Florida Voter Cancellations?

Cancellations rose in 38 counties across Florida from June 27 to July 17.

by Asa Royal, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. / August 1, 2017
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(TNS) -- During a recent 20-day period, 1,715 Florida voters took themselves off the registration rolls.

The 117 percent spike in cancellations over the same period last year came as news spread of President Donald Trump's fraud commission and its request for voter data from all 50 states.

Did the request for voter information trigger the cancellations?

While the increase suggests a correlation, regular maintenance of the voting rolls, a routine required by state law and unrelated to the federal commission, might also explain the increase.

Here's what we do know: On June 28, Trump's official request for voter information, made by the commission's vice chairman, Kris Kobach, sought the names, addresses, birth dates, political parties, electoral participation histories and last four digits of the voter's Social Security number of every registered voter in the country.

The request sparked a media firestorm as Democrats and voting rights activists called the request a veiled attempt at voter intimidation and suppression. Pushback was so intense that the data request was put on hold. Several lawsuits have been filed and questions have been raised about the secure nature of data transmittal, but on Friday, Florida officials agreed to send the state's voter rolls data to the commission.

Cancellations rose in 38 counties across Florida from June 27 to July 17. In St. Lucie County, 487 voters asked to be removed from the rolls, compared to two voters the prior year. In Lee County, 242 people cancelled their voter registration, up from 38 in 2016. In Monroe County, eight cancelled their registration, up from zero in 2015 and in 2016.

The pattern didn't hold everywhere. In Pinellas County, for example, 47 voters took themselves off the rolls compared to 117 the year before. Other states have reported upticks. Colorado had nearly 3,400 Coloradans cancel their voter registrations during the same period.

Though barely perceptible in a state with 12.9 million registered voters, the Florida cancellations concern some elections officials.

Mary Jane Arrington, supervisor of elections in Osceola County — which had 76 cancellations in the 2017 period compared to 13 in 2016 and nine in 2015 — cited voter unease with the commission as a chief reason.

"It really upsets people that their phone numbers, their email address — they give it to us to communicate about voting or absentee ballots — (will) become public record," Arrington said. "That bothers them immensely. We tell the voters when they're (cancelling registration) that we can't guarantee their information is not going to be sent. People are really upset. They want to know what it's going to be used for. We can't answer those questions."

In some counties, however, many of the cancellations can be attributed to a routine process that prunes voter rolls in off-election years. During these periods, counties send out forms asking voters to update their registration. If a voter replies "I'm no longer here," then that's considered a request for removal.

In Manatee County, for example, 253 voters requested their removal during the 20-day period of 2017, compared to three in 2016 and 22 in 2015, the previous maintenance year. It turned out the county had moved up its 2017 roll maintenance to fall in that period, which may have inflated the number of cancellations. Also, neither Manatee or St. Lucie, which had 487 cancellations, distinguish between whether voters cancelled because they were contacted or cancelled because of concerns about privacy related to the data request.

Those two counties account for much of the increase from 2016.

Although it doesn't look like the request has produced the "chilling effect" Democrats predicted it would, it's hard to be certain of that now. The three weeks of data since Kobach's request are easily exaggerated by small events, such as routine voter maintenance.

By the end of the year, new patterns, if they exist, should become more obvious.

©2017 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.