Florida GOP awaits governor’s signature on new voting rules
Florida Republicans have passed a series of sweeping voter restrictions targeting mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular methods of voting, becoming the latest GOP-controlled state to tighten election rules after massive turnout in 2020.
The bill approved Thursday now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just months ago touted the efficiency and security of the election in his politically crucial state. He is expected to sign it.
Republicans said the legislation, passed on a party-line vote, was needed to guard against fraud, after former President Trump made unfounded claims that the presidential election was stolen from him.
Democrats say the move is a partisan attempt to keep some voters from the ballot box.
Much of the debate focused on vote-by-mail ballots and how they are collected and returned.
If the bill is signed into the law, drop boxes will be available only when early-voting sites are open, though voters in some counties could submit their completed ballots in the boxes at any time of the day. The boxes must be supervised by election officials.
More than 111 million Americans voted before election day in 2020. Republicans want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Another focus was on “ballot harvesting,” a practice Republicans have often used but sought to limit, saying that outside groups could tamper with the completed ballots they collect.
The final legislation was far less severe than some of the measures initially proposed, such as an outright ban on drop boxes and a requirement to present identification when dropping off ballots.
Democrats decried the rule changes that remained, including a prohibition against groups other than election officials distributing food or water to people waiting to vote — similar to a controversial new law in neighboring Georgia.
“The intent of the no-solicitation zone in [Florida’s] language is to make sure that nobody is trying to influence the vote while they are in line,” said Republican state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.
Georgia’s sweeping rewrite of its election rules has prompted alarm among Democrats and voting rights advocates in Florida and elsewhere, who object to new identification requirements that critics said would make once-routine changes to voter registration information more inconvenient.
“We had, as our Republican governor said, one of the best-operated elections in the country, and yet today, the majority party through last-minute maneuvers passed a voter suppression bill mimicking what took place in Georgia,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani.
Corporations, especially Georgia-based businesses like Delta and Coca-Cola, respond by ramping up criticism of new voting restrictions in the state.
Not long ago, Republicans benefited most from mail voting. But Democrats were concerned last year that the COVID-19 pandemic would make polling places unsafe and keep people from voting on election day, prompting the party to make an aggressive push to get people to vote early, particularly by mail.
Last fall, Democrats in Florida outvoted Republicans by mail by 680,000 absentee ballots.
Trump carried Florida by about 3%, but Republicans were still concerned about Democrats’ advantage in absentee voting.
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