Voter registration took a major hit as the coronavirus outbreak began, according to a new survey of 13 states by the Center for Election Innovation & Research.
All 13 states saw a decline in their new registrations in April, when compared to the registration numbers in April 2016. Eleven of those 13 states also saw lower registration numbers in March.
The dip came after all 13 states bested their 2016 registration numbers in January. For about half of the states, that positive trend continued through February.
The report looked at voter registration data from Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
There are several different ways the pandemic has hobbled typical registration opportunities.
Trips to the driver’s license office and other government offices — an activity that the lockdowns have now limited — are when many voters have traditionally registered to vote. The report notes that several states in its survey had since 2016 implemented an automatic voter registration system that stood to boost registration numbers out of DMV interactions.
“This practice has added millions of eligible Americans to their states’ voter rolls in recent years and should have led to this year’s new voter registrations overshadowing those of 2016,” the Center said.
Additionally, the in-person field work done by third party registration groups has been scrambled by the pandemic, though some of those groups saw hopeful signs of increased registration activity around the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The decline in registrations is particularly troubling as elections officials prepare to scale up their absentee voting operations for the pandemic.
For states that plan to proactively mail their voters ballots or ballot applications, the effectiveness of those efforts depend on the rolls being up to date.