Florida Democrats appear to have amassed a significant lead over Republicans in the number of voters seeking to vote by mail during the pandemic, creating a possible hedge against any Election Day downturn in turnout amid in-person voting worries.
The Democratic edge also comes as President Donald Trump continues to sow doubt within his own Republican party about the integrity of absentee ballots.
As of last week, Democrats had a 302,000 voter advantage over Republicans, with 1.46 million Democrats applying to vote by mail, compared with 1.16 million for the GOP, according to state voter registration records.
The widening gap in vote-by-mail applications between both major parties comes as Democrats have more aggressively pushed Floridians to apply for absentee ballots — even before the coronavirus outbreak but now even more so should the pandemic linger into the fall.
Elections officials from across the state have sought to get more voters to request absentee ballots to minimize Election Day crowds at polling sites. The continuing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak has also prompted worries that poll workers won't show up for their shifts, which could disrupt balloting and counting.
Joe Gruters, the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, downplayed the surging Democratic numbers.
“Good for them. We are not worried at all because our voters want to vote either by early voting or Election Day," Gruters said. “We're just going to be fine.”
Of course, asking for an absentee ballot doesn't necessarily mean a voter will mail it in, said Susan MacManus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida.
“I think Republicans should be concerned about the energy level behind it,” she said.
The heightened priority on expanding voting by mail is part of what Democratic officials describe as a more robust effort to get out the vote this fall — whether it be by mail, early voting or on Election Day.
In a memo sent to reporters on Wednesday, the Florida Democratic Party's Executive Director, Juan Penalosa, asserted that the Florida GOP has not attempted to counter the surge by Democrats.
“Their failure to act, coupled with the President’s war on vote-by-mail, has had a chilling effect on Republican enrollment,” Penalosa said.
While Florida will hold a primary in August, the national focus is already on November in a state that Trump cannot afford to lose in his bid for a second term.
The president has not backed down on his assertions that voting by mail is rife with fraud.
In a tweet earlier this week, the president charged that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries,” decreeing that this years elections will be rigged. “It will be the scandal of our times,” his tweet said.
Republicans have generally had the edge in voting by mail and has long been part of the party’s winning formula in Florida. The party has dominated statewide politics for years.
Trump won Florida in 2016, but the state's Republicans have generally not joined him in demonizing voting by mail — at least not in their state.