Florida passes election bill that would make changes to mail voting
The Florida Legislature passed a sweeping election bill Thursday night that would make significant changes to mail voting in the state after a record number of Floridians voted by mail in the 2020 election.
Governor Ron DeSantis said on Fox News Thursday night that he plans to sign the bill. If he does, Florida would become the latest state to overhaul its election system in the wake of the 2020 election. Republican lawmakers around the country have proposed significant changes to the way elections are conducted and some have already been signed into law, including Georgia, Iowa and Montana.
The bill would add ID requirements for voters requesting to vote by mail. Voters would have to provide either their driver's license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security Number when asking for a mail ballot. The bill would also require this information to register to vote or to update a voter's registration.
The bill would also make voters request mail ballots more frequently. Florida has allowed mail ballot requests to last for two general election cycles, but the new bill would require voters to request a mail ballot every general election cycle.
Drop boxes are one of the bill's main targets. Under the bill, they could be placed at election supervisors' offices, permanent supervisor branch offices and early voting sites. This is a slight change from current law It would require them to be at permanent branch locations rather than any branch office. Drop boxes would have to be distributed to give voters in a county equal access.
The measure also places limits on the hours some drop boxes can be accessed. Drop boxes at early voting sites could only be accessed during early voting hours, but at supervisors' offices they would be accessible at any hour. The drop boxes would have to be staffed by an employee from the election supervisor's office, which is a change from the current law allowing law enforcement officers to supervise and only requires it during early voting hours. Under the measure, supervisors who don't follow the rules related to drop boxes would have to pay a $25,000 fine.
It would also give more power to partisan poll watchers during certain points of the ballot review, ban private funds for elections — something other states have adopted, limit who can return absentee ballots, put new requirements in place for settling lawsuits over election law and expand the radius of outside groups "engaging in any activity with the intent to influence" voters to 150 feet.
DeSantis praised Florida's 2020 election, but said that while things went smoothly in Florida, "we shouldn't rest on our laurels." On Fox News Thursday, DeSantis said the new reforms will make the state's election system "even better."
The bill passed the Senate 23-17, with one Republican voting no, and 77-40 in the House along party lines.
During the debate, Republicans noted there are multiple ways to vote in Florida and said this strengthens Florida's election security.
"It's easier now than it's ever been. You have vote by mail. You got early (voting). You got the drop box and you got in-person (voting). And 20 to 30 years ago, you did not have this many opportunities," Republican State Senator Travis Hutson said, according to CBS Miami station WFOR. "I believe that every legal vote should count. I believe one fraudulent vote is one too many. And I'm trying to protect the sanctity of our elections."
The bill did not include some of the more controversial proposals that it had considered, including banning drop boxes entirely, requiring an ID to return a ballot at a drop box and putting strict requirements on which signatures could be used for signature verification.
While some of the states that have passed or are considering election bills are battleground states President Biden won, like Georgia, Arizona and Michigan, former President Trump won Florida by 3 points in November. Lawmakers in Texas, another state Mr. Trump won, are also considering significant changes to the state's election laws.
Some Democratic lawmakers noted the changes came after Florida Democrats cast about 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans in November. Democrats said the new rules will make it more difficult to vote.
"You don't place deliberate barriers in folks' way and call it security," said Democratic State Representative Tracie Davis. "This is an insult to me personally and this is an insult to the millions of voters that depend on us to make decisions for them especially when it comes to election law."
Voting rights and civil rights groups also denounced the bill.
"Like its predecessors, the unnecessary restrictions imposed by this bill will disproportionately impact voters of color, voters with disabilities, elderly voters, and low-income voters. Simply put, SB90 is undemocratic to its core," Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement.
Outside of elections, the bill would also give the governor power to appoint replacements for county or municipal elected officials who resign for office rather than holding special elections to replace those leaders. Republicans argued that this simplifies resignation replacement scenarios, while Democrats claimed it was a power grab.
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