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Republican elections chief condemns state move

Written by on Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Florida’s exit from voter roll system prompts harsh words from Mike Bennett


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Sept.13, 2023


Official Transcript

Host: ERIC is a nationwide election registration crosscheck system that helps maintain clean and accurate voter rolls. It keeps tabs on voters who died, moved, or applied for absentee ballots in different locations in the same elections. Florida joined ERIC in 2019, but barely four years later the state dropped out in March this year – to the chagrin of one Republican supervisor of elections in our region. The Manatee County League of Women Voters hosted an online panel discussion Monday featuring a representative of ERIC, as well as Mike Bennett, the supervisor of elections in Manatee County who says he was instrumental in bringing ERIC to Florida. Our news team listened to what they had to say, and asked a few questions.

Johannes Werner: Florida dropped out of the ERIC voter registration crosscheck system in March this year. This, after receiving 60 reports from ERIC about in-state and out-of-state moves, about deaths, and about duplicate registrations. They also identified 2.1 million voters in Florida who are eligible but not registered to vote. ERIC requires members to notify those non-registered voters and encourage them to register.

Concern about election integrity as a consequence of Florida’s exit from ERIC was the reason why the Manatee League of Women Voters decided to host an online discussion about the topic. The Zoom discussion featured Bennett, as well as Shane Hamlin, executive director of the Electronic Registration Information Center, the non-profit set up in 2012 by four Republican-led and three Democrat-led states.

ERIC currently has 25 member states, after the resignation of Florida and eight other Republican-led states. That includes Texas, which is also planning to leave.

The consequences of Florida’s resignation are not good for the accuracy of voter rolls in Manatee County, said Bennett.


Mike Bennett: I have no idea what the problem was, to be honest, because here we were, fighting so hard. Every state was fighting so hard. We wanted accurate voter rolls. And then along comes the first system that can actually deliver somewhat accurate voter rolls. And we decided, well, we really don’t want to do that anymore because that may favor someone else. It’s kind of like vote-by-mail in Florida. I was always shocked that it got changed around so much, when you figure that our governor won 55% of the vote down in Florida and the majority of that was vote-by-mail. And so here we got a system that works. It’s only in America that you can find a system that works so well, and it’s time to get rid of it. But that’s exactly what we did with ERIC. In Manatee County, we have every year about 20,000 people moving in or out, moving around changing addresses, or whatever. That’s  just Manatee County, and we fight really hard to keep those voter rolls accurate. We have a lot of people who register to vote or try to register to vote, who should not be registering to vote. It’s not that they want to commit fraud – truly not. A lot of it is under social pressure. All of a sudden you find a new couple have moved here. Shane and his wife just moved down here from Michigan, and they go to the local church and the church has pushed for this new school referendum. And they say, are you registered to vote? ‘No, we’re not’. So they say, ‘Oh, you got to sign up right here. We’ll get it done.’ And they fill out the paperwork. The problem with it is, Shane is trying to change his life. He’s a convicted felon from Minnesota or Michigan. And he’s trying to change his life, and he’s trying to protect his reputation. So consequently, they take the pressure of the church group and register, even though they know they’re never going to vote. They’re not going to commit fraud. They’re really not. In the 11 or 12 years that I’ve been associated with the supervisor of elections in Manatee County, we’ve actually only pushed three people to get prosecuted. Most of those, to be honest, the State’s Attorney’s office doesn’t want to do anything about them, and so they kind of just get lost in the shuffle. Fraud is not a big problem. Certainly not in Manatee County is fraud an issue. In some of the other areas? Maybe. Do we have people who left Iowa and are still on the voter rolls up there after they moved to Florida? Yes, we do. ERIC was really about the only system we had that could follow up and try to correct that. It’s really a shame that the State of Florida decided not to participate anymore.

J.W.: State officials have yet to explain why they decided to quit. The League of Women Voters’ panel did not feature any state elections officials. In their absence, Bennet had a simple answer.

M.B.: It’s easy – politics. Unfortunately politics, too many times, overrides things, just like when they passed Senate Bill 750 last year. You would have thought they would have talked to the supervisors elections, of how this was going to affect our elections, how it was going to affect our voter registration, how’s it gonna affect the number of people who register to vote by mail. They didn’t. They didn’t ask us. They didn’t invite us to the dance.

J.W.: Ron Turner, supervisor of elections in Sarasota County, now heads the Florida-wide association of supervisors that, according to Turner, shares opinions and best practices. Could the Florida Supervisors of Elections lobby the state for a return to ERIC? WSLR News asked Bennett.

M.B.: The state association probably will not take that up. As an organization. we’re very careful what we do. We do look at legislation collectively, or things that might change it. But I do not see that that’s on the agenda for this year. It could, but I don’t believe that we’re going to be having that at the head of our list this year.

This has been Johannes Werner for WSLR News.


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