What happened to thousands of voters? Registrations suddenly drop in Broward, Palm Beach counties

Broward, the state’s second largest county, had a robust roll of active registered voters at the beginning of December: 1.28 million. By the start of 2024, the number suddenly had plunged — to 1.09 million.

A few months earlier, records show, Palm Beach County saw a large downward bump as well.

The county went from 946,189 active registered voters at the end of September to 847,617 a month later.

The drop-offs in South Florida and elsewhere in the state have generated questions, concerns — and even a conspiracy theory — at the beginning of what already promises to be an enormously contentious election year in which people will decide on the presidency and, possibly, referendums on highly charged questions of recreational marijuana and abortion rights.

Statewide, Florida had 13.5 million active registered voters on Nov. 30, the most recent data posted by the Florida Division of Elections — a decrease of 996,676 from 7.4% fewer than in Jan. 1, 2023. That’s a decline of 7.4% even though the state’s population is increasing.

By the time the full-year figures are collected, the drop will be well over 1 million because the statewide numbers don’t yet reflect Broward’s big December reduction.

List maintenance

So what’s going on? What seems like starting reductions is the latest manifestation of “list maintenance” conducted by county supervisor of elections offices.

List maintenance is routine. But the Legislature enacted some changes last year, adding additional juice to the requirements and likely contributed to some eye-popping numbers.

The numbers mostly reflect people who haven’t voted since before the 2020 presidential election. During list maintenance, they’re moved to inactive status, something that ultimately can lead to a complete removal from the voter rolls.

Affected are people who didn’t vote in the last two general elections — either the Joe Biden-Donald Trump presidential contest in 2020 or the Charlie Crist-Ron DeSantis gubernatorial election in 2022.

Not voting in either of those high-profile elections, “to me, it’s just an indicator that perhaps these folks have moved away or just aren’t around any more or just aren’t interested,” said Broward Supervisor of Elections Joe Scott.

How it works

Scott and Alison Novoa, director of strategic initiatives at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office, said the elections offices send notifications to people who are registered but haven’t voted in either of the last two general elections.

The big change under the newest law: Voters are warned they need to respond within 30 days. If they don’t, they’re moved to “inactive status.”

“The person has to respond to the final notice or they become inactive,” Scott said. “Everybody who did not respond to that final notice ended up going inactive.”

Under state law, “The supervisor must designate as inactive all voters who have been sent an address confirmation final notice and who have not returned the postage prepaid, preaddressed return form within 30 days or for which the final notice has been returned as undeliverable.”

The vast majority of notices get no response, Scott and Novoa said.

In Palm Beach County, for example, the list-maintenance certification certification the elections office staff completed when it finished the most recent round on Nov. 15 shows about 106,000 final address confirmation notices were mailed. Fewer than 4,500 voters responded.

Scott said the people being moved to inactive don’t seem to be those who are truly interested in voting. A major indicator to him is that engaged voters respond in droves to notices that affect them.

When his office sent a mailer to people who have voted by mail in the past alerting them that their requests had expired and they needed to sign up again, there was a flood of responses, he said. “When we send out mailers to people who are active voters, they respond. When we sent out these final (list maintenance) notices, it was crickets,” he said.

‘Inactive’ can vote

People who are on inactive status are still allowed to vote if they show up at the polls with identification or engage in another voting-related activity, such as requesting a vote-by-mail ballot. All of those activities involve the inactive voter “confirming his or her current address of legal residence.”

If someone on inactive status does not vote in the next two general elections — for president in 2024 or for governor in 2026 — then they’ll be removed. To vote after that, they’d have to register all over again.

“You need to do something to let us know that you’re still here and that you intend to continue participating and continue voting. You will get re-active,” Scott said. “This group of folks will basically become ineligible if they do not participate in anything between now and December of 2026, that’s when they will become ineligible. They’ve got the ’24 (election) cycle and the ’26 cycle.”

A conspiracy concern

Placing hundreds of thousands of voters on inactive status alarms some people.

And, according to the prominent fact-checking organization PolitiFact, a TikTok video advanced a conspiracy theory that Florida election officials had conspired to purge people — mostly Democrats — from the voter rolls.

The theory, debunked by PolitiFact, was that election officials were trying to prevent passage of a referendum that would enshrine abortion rights in the Florida Constitution. If the language of the ballot initiative advanced by abortion-rights proponents is approved by the Florida Supreme Court, the referendum will be on the November ballot.

The person who posted the video on TikTok — where a disproportionate share of young people get their information — framed the reduction as something sinister, declaring that “almost a million people, mostly Democrats, have been kicked off the voter roll.”

Even though elections statewide are overseen by the Republican secretary of state appointed by DeSantis, list maintenance is conducted by the elections supervisors elected in each county but Miami-Dade. Scott in Broward and Wendy Sartory Link in Palm Beach County, the second and third most populous counties in the state, are both Democrats.

Democratic data analyst Matthew Isbell of MCI Maps said it isn’t an issue. “The fact is that list maintenance happens all the time,” he said. “All of the parties lose numbers in these list cleanups.”

Political implications

It isn’t a partisan issue, but the numbers illustrate one of the Democratic Party’s continuing problems attempting to stay relevant in a state that’s becoming increasingly Republican.

Consider the numbers:

In a Broward County Elections Office report dated Jan. 3, the county had:

—1.09 million registered voters, down 13.7% since Jan. 3, 2023.

—505,547 registered Democrats, down 15.4%.

—245,997 registered Republicans, down 8.5%.

—316,318 no party affiliation/independent voters, down 15.8%.

In a Palm Beach County Elections Office report dated Jan. 2, the county had:

—854,728 registered voters, down 14.4% since Jan. 3, 2023.

—326,244 registered Democrats, down 16.9%.

—266,566 registered Republicans, down 8.4%.

—238,395 no party affiliation independents, down 18.7%.

Statewide, the number of active Democrats decreased by 467,000 from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, a reduction of 9.4%. The number of Republicans decreased by 153,000, a decrease of 2.9%. The number of NPA/independents decreased by 425,000, or 10.5%.

(The numbers reflect the people who had been on the voter rolls, the people who have been moved to inactive or come off the rolls because of death or felony conviction and the addition of newly registered voters.)

As people move to inactive status, and ultimately off the rolls for whatever the reason, both parties need to register new voters.

Republicans have a finely honed, well-funded voter registration infrastructure. Democrats don’t have as much money to invest in voter registration efforts, which makes it harder for them than for the Republicans to make up for the voters leaving the rolls.

That’s compounded by other factors.

Many of the previous generations of retirees that came from the northeast and populated the big South Florida condominium communities were dedicated Democratic voters. Many of the people moving to Florida now, either retirees moving to places like the Villages retirement megalopolis northwest of Orlando and south of Gainesville or younger voters attracted by the brand of conservatism that’s flourishing in the state, means a better pool of newcomers for the Republicans and one that’s less advantageous for Democrats.

“The only thing Democrats need to be worried about in this context is are you registering people to make up for that,” said Isbell, the data analyst.

Cautious reaction

“It’s tricky. It’s good to do housekeeping,” said Kate Renchin, co-chair of the Palm Beach County Voting Rights Coalition, which includes county chapters of the League of Women Voters, American Civil Liberties Union and National Council of Jewish Women. “It’s got to be done every so often.”

“It can be fixed (by a voter moved to inactive status) but it is just another measure that makes it harder to vote,” she said. “In an ideal world we would advocate for same-day registration.”

Chad Klitzman, a Democratic candidate for state Senate in Broward County who unsuccessfully sought the nomination to run for supervisor of elections in 2020, said the high number of people moved to inactive status deserves attention.

“List maintenance is a critical step in ensuring we have accurate voter rolls but this is an extremely large number of voters to have been removed. I hope everything was triple-checked and that we are doing everything we can under the confines of our laws to let folks know they have been deemed inactive before removing them from the rolls,” Klitzman said via text message.


Renchin advised people to occasionally check their voter-registration status at county supervisor of elections offices websites, though she acknowledged that “it’s hard to get people to do. Everybody’s running around so busy and they don’t think about voting until the last minute.”

Scott said he’s constantly looking for ways to get voters engaged, so he’s had his office cull the list of voters who were moved to inactive status to find subsets of people he thinks have a greater chance of actually participating in an election.

The first is people under age 30, who Scott said might have signed up during a campus voter registration drive. The second is people who voted somewhat recently, in either the 2016 presidential or 2018 gubernatorial election.

Each group is about 25,000 people, with some overlap between the two. (Say, for example, someone who registered at age 20 to vote in the 2018 contest for governor but hasn’t participated since.)

Later this year, probably in the spring, Scott said he’d send an additional mailer that bluntly tells people they are now inactive and will be removed from the rolls if they don’t take action. “It’s going to be something that’s going to be big and colorful” to grab attention.