TALLAHASSEE – Democratic Representative Charlie Crist begins his attempt to return to the Florida governor’s mansion with a focus on voting rights, an issue that has played a big part in his own political career and which he says can to be an effective club against Republican Governor Ron. DeSantis.
Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida and current Democratic congressman from St. Petersburg, has crisscrossed the state in recent days promoting his “Voting Rights Tour.” He uses public events to highlight his political resume, including restoring the voting rights of more than 150,000 felons during his one tenure as governor from 2007 to 2011, and echoing Democratic criticisms of the legislation passed by the GOP-led state legislature and signed by DeSantis which supporters say it guarantees Florida’s electoral integrity, but opponents denounce a coordinated effort to make it harder to vote.
“He’s running for president,” Crist said, speaking at a roundtable at the NAACP Tallahassee regional office, about DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a 2024 presidential bid. “I mean, I see what’s going on and it breaks my heart. Florida is not a stepping stone.
Crist spent much of his time denouncing the Election Bill (SB 90), drafted by Republican legislative majorities and which DeSantis enacted in a closed-door ceremony in Palm Beach County in which only Fox News was allowed to attend.
“I think he invited a media outlet,” Crist said. “You might be able to guess which one it was.”
Even after the 2020 Florida election went well – earning praise from DeSantis – the state legislature joined with others across the country in approving bills adding new voting rules .
The Florida Elections Bill, among others, ends the 24/7 use of ballot boxes, which more than 1.5 million Florida voters used in 2020 during the pandemic, in requiring that ballot boxes be monitored by an electoral official in person and only available during the first hours of voting. The measure also places a two-round limit on the number of mail-in ballots a person can collect and return on behalf of the elderly or sick, and requires voters to renew mail-in ballot requests each calendar year.
The legislation resulted in two separate federal lawsuits from voting rights groups and created partisan battle lines in the courts. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee, led by Sen. Rick Scott, a former Florida governor who Crist unsuccessfully challenged in 2014, have filed motions to intervene in court challenges in support of the legislation.
“The lawsuits brought by radical leftists in Florida have no basis in fact,” Scott said in a statement when the NRSC filed its motion. “They are part of the Democrats’ big lie – that any effort to ensure the integrity of our elections is racist. This is a lie and the NRSC is proud to stand with the RNC in my home state to defend this common sense law and fight the Democrats’ lies.
Democrats almost universally oppose the legislation, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is the only Democrat elected in the entire state of Florida and Crist’s main Democratic challenger. She opposed the election bill throughout the 2021 Florida legislative session and used it as part of a global messaging strategy that portrays DeSantis as an “authoritarian,” while Crist turned much of his campaign’s initial focus specifically on electoral law changes.
“If you can’t vote, or if others make it harder for you,” Crist said, “they’re basically hindering your freedom and your voice.”