New Florida bill will make voting more difficult, critics say

Activists question motivation of Republican lawmakers who passed restrictions

LAUDERHILL, Fla. – Florida Republicans passed a series of sweeping voter restrictions Thursday targeting mailed ballots, drop boxes and other popular election methods.

The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said publicly that he will sign it.

The legislation would only make ballot drop boxes available when early voting sites are open. Those drop boxes would have to be supervised by election officials.

Republicans say the legislation is needed to guard against fraud, after former President Donald 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.

“The fact is that it will lead to fewer people being able to vote, fewer people being able to register to vote and fewer people being able to have their ballot count once it’s already sent in,” said Abdelilah Skhir of Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Currently, your vote by mail application is valid for two election cycles. But the new bill calls for one.

“Forces you to apply for a vote by mail ballot twice as often as you normally would,” Skhir said.

He said along with limiting the use of drop-off boxes, the bill would prevent people from giving out food and water at voting locations.

“Democrats, Republicans, independents, our supervisor of elections — everyone can agree on that our elections went extremely smooth [last year],” Skhir said.

He’s right. Just a few months ago, DeSantis touted the 2020 election in Florida.

“Florida had the most transparent and efficient election anywhere in the country,” the governor said.

Activists, especially those familiar with election laws, question the motive of Republican lawmakers.

“It’s crazy. Right now it’s causing so much confusion and it is so unfair to the voters of Florida,” said Marisol Zenteno, former president of the Miami-Dade League of Women Voters.

The non-partisan group doesn’t endorse candidates, but on this issue they have been vocal.

“This is is not really appropriate,” Zenteno said. “The 67 county supervisor of elections spoke against it.”

Craig Latimer — the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and President of Florida Supervisors of Elections — put out a statement against the bill.

“We should be looking for cost-effective ways to expand [drop boxes’] use, including the use of secure 24-hour drop boxes with camera surveillance. Instead, the new legislation prohibits that,” Latimer said.

He added: “This legislation still makes requesting Vote By Mail ballots and returning those ballots harder.”

See Latimer’s full statement below:

“As Supervisors of Elections, we are unwavering in our commitment to keeping our elections both secure and accessible. We did that in 2020, to universal acclaim. Elections ran smoothly, voters participated in record numbers, and election results were verified with audits in every county in Florida, as provided for in our current election law. My colleagues and I will continue to work every day to increase voter participation and maintain the integrity of our elections, following any new requirements established by our lawmakers.

“During this legislative session, Supervisors of Elections spent hours talking to legislators about how proposed legislation would impact voters. For example, in 2020 our voters overwhelmingly appreciated the peace of mind that came from dropping their mail ballot off in a secure drop box, because they knew that by using the drop box instead of a mailbox, their ballot would be received on time. We should be looking for cost-effective ways to expand their use, including the use of secure 24-hour drop boxes with camera surveillance. Instead, the new legislation prohibits that.

“Fortunately, proposals that would have been the most disenfranchising, such as cancelling Vote By Mail requests that voters currently have on file, were dropped from the final version of the bill. However, this legislation still makes requesting Vote By Mail ballots and returning those ballots harder.

“After days of debate, our hope is that the initial and unnecessary call for election reform will not detract from the confidence that was well-earned in 2020. Indeed, after the 2020 General Election, Governor DeSantis said that we had “finally vanquished the ghosts of Bush vs. Gore,” praising our ability to count 11 million votes quickly and holding Florida up as an example for other states to follow. Throughout this legislative process, legislators who supported and opposed the bill commended our performance in 2020, over and over. I look forward to continuing to earn the trust of my community as I work to preserve our most precious right to participate in our democratic government.”

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