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Voter registration surged during BLM protests, study finds

The rise, largely among Democrats and independents, came after a steep decline amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Image: Michigan Voters Visit The Polls For State's Primary Election
Residents keep their distance while waiting in line for same-day voter registration or amendments to their voting status outside of the City of Detroit Department of Elections during the Michigan Primary Election in Detroit, Michigan on Aug. 4, 2020.Brittany Greeson / Getty Images

Voter registrations fell sharply amid the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, but shot up in June amid nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, according to a new analysis.

TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, analyzed local election officials' registration data against their voter file and found a surge of Democratic and unaffiliated voter registrations in June, amid the large Black Lives Matter protests across the country.

"Despite a full or partial lockdown in large swaths of the country for much of the month, voter registration began to rebound as people took to the streets to protest," the firm said in its analysis.

In the first half of June, 1.1 million voters registered. By comparison, 1.5 million voters registered in the entire month of June 2016. Not all states have reported the entire month of June's registration data, hence the partial national data.

Some of June's registration surge likely happened at the protests: Local reports from Los Angeles, California, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, detail voter registration efforts. Some activists posted QR codes on protest signs, so protesters could scan the code and begin the registration process on their phones.

In Minnesota, the heart of the demonstrations, there was a large spike that appears to have continued into July.

"Voter registration for Democrats nearly doubled in June from 17,000 in 2016 to 32,000 in 2020. Meanwhile, Republican registration essentially flat-lined at 17,000," TargetSmart wrote.

The spring before a presidential election is typically marked by an increase in voter registrations ahead of the primaries, but after the coronavirus' rapid spread prompted statewide shutdowns and delayed primaries, voter registration plummeted across the country. In March and April, registration fell 32 percent compared with 2016's numbers. In May, the decline accelerated and voter registrations fell 54 percent compared with 2016’s numbers.

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Historically, most voters register outside the home: 52 percent of 2016 voters registered at government offices like the Department of Motor Vehicles or on school campuses, at hospitals or registration drives, according to Census data. Many of those offices and drives were curbed or closed down amid the pandemic, contributing to the decline in voter registrations.

Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, also pointed to growing voter frustration over President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic, which polls indicate grew through June.

"There's this level of intensity, people are feeling like this situation is being very much mishandled, and if they have the opportunity to go and cast a ballot and put different people in charge," Bonier told NBC News last month while preparing the analysis. "I think we're seeing that in the vote registrations."