Florida the Latest to Restrict Mail-In Ballots, Drop-Off Boxes

Democrat lawmakers roundly criticized the measures, contesting claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

In this Oct. 26, 2020 file photo, an election worker stamps a vote-by-mail ballot before placing it in an official ballot drop box at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral, Fla. Republican lawmakers in key states say security concerns warrant new restrictions on the drop-off boxes. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

TALLAHASSEE (CN) — Echoing voting reform laws adopted by a growing number of Republican-dominated state legislatures, Florida lawmakers Thursday passed new regulations governing vote-by-mail eligibility and tightened rules around ballot drop boxes.

SB 90, approved by the Republican-led House and Senate, now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The Republican governor, who has frequently touted his support of voting reforms, is expected to sign the bill.

The measure will eliminate all-hours ballot drop boxes and will require an elections official to continuously monitor the boxes during normal early-voting hours. The bill restricts those who can drop off another voter’s ballot to only their immediate family members.

An earlier version of the bill would have prohibited drop boxes entirely.

Per the new law, those who vote by mail will have to request a ballot for every election. Previously, voters only had to request a mail-in ballot every two election cycles. Voters will first need to provide identification such as a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number.

In last November’s election, more than 4.8 million Floridians voted by mail — a majority of them Democrats.

In addition, the law prohibits anyone from distributing food and beverages within 150 feet of polling places.

The bill passed the Florida Senate 23-17 on Thursday and 77-40 in the House the day before.

The state’s Democratic minority forcefully condemned the bill during debate, likening the new rules to Jim Crow laws.

“If you are going to make a law, you should make sure you know the history in this state,” state Sen. Perry Thurston Jr., a Democrat, said Thursday during the bill’s debate. “We have put so many barriers in front of some people’s right to vote. We put Jim Crow laws, we put poll taxes, we put literacy tests … we even used lynching as a barrier.”

Democrats also linked the bill with former President Donald Trump’s false accusations of voter fraud during the 2020 election.

“This bill is a response to the big lie, the lie that the presidential election was fraudulent,” said Democrat state Sen. Lori Berman. “Why are we making it so hard to vote? Why are we limiting who can bring in vote-by-mail ballots? It’s not because of fraud, because we haven’t seen any.”

The ACLU of Florida and other voting rights groups voiced strong opposition to the bill.

“Rather than moving forward and tackling the issues facing our state and dealing with the effects of the largest public health crisis of our lifetime, certain legislators are silencing Floridians by restricting access to the ballot box,” said Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida, in a statement. “Our elected officials should not be making it harder for Floridians to lawfully exercise their right to vote. It is a sad day for our democracy.” 

In a statement, the state’s 67 supervisors of elections denounced the law.

Despite having a nearly flawless election last year — in contrast to Florida’s previous election snafus — Republicans said they wanted to “shore up” the state’s election system.

“We did have a great election, but why should we be satisfied there?” said state Sen. Travis Hutson, a Republican. “I believe 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.”

SB 90 joins more than 300 bills that would restrict voting across 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Nearby Georgia passed a widely denounced voting reform law in March.

Republicans also added a less publicized provision to SB 90 that allows the governor to appoint people to local offices vacated by officials running for another state office. Critics contend the measure is targeted at an open congressional seat left by U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died earlier this month.

“When a Democratic governor is elected, just know you will fall into this silo,” said Democrat state Sen. Shevrin Jones. “Understand what you are doing today, because when the tables turn, although you are in power now, it will change.”

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