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Emails and texts claim Florida election overhaul was not political






The publicized text message exchanges shed new light on the Florida legislature’s electoral reform bill that was passed. | Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images

By GARY FINEOUT

Update


TALLAHASSEE – Republicans in Florida this spring insisted on the need for a controversial new election law limiting access to the ballot box to prevent voter fraud. It was not, they said, an attempt to gain a partisan advantage.

But a series of internal emails and texts obtained by POLITICO show that the law was drafted with the help of the best attorney in the Florida Republican Party – and that a crackdown on requests for a postal vote was seen as a A way for the GOP to wipe out the advantage Democrats had in postal voting in the 2020 election. The messages undermine the consistent argument made by Republicans that the new law was intended to prevent future electoral fraud.

The law – labeled “Jim Crow 2.0” by some Democrats – was passed at strong demand from Republicans. Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill during an exclusive event broadcast by Fox News. He argued even as local election officials, including Republicans, criticized the measure after it ran a smooth 2020 election. One official went so far as to call him a “slap” while a northern supervisor from Florida recently told DeSantis he was resigning. at the end of this month in part to oppose “continuous changes” to electoral laws.

Florida was just one of many GOP-controlled states that passed voting restrictions following the loss of former President Donald Trump and his unsubstantiated complaints about voter fraud, though it is not as restrictive as the laws passed in Georgia and Texas. During debate on the bill in the closing moments of this year’s legislative session, Florida Republican Party Chairman and State Senator Joe Gruters repeatedly said the bill “would make the vote as easy as possible and hard to cheat “.

Yet in a remarkable exchange of text obtained by POLITICO, Gruters and the House’s principal sponsor state representative, Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) went back and forth on proposals to shorten the validity period. requests for postal votes.

Gruters defended a Senate proposal to quash all existing postal ballot requests, saying it would be “devastating” for Republicans to keep them valid before the 2022 election when DeSantis and other GOP officials l State will be re-elected. More than 2.18 million Democrats used postal ballots, compared to 1.5 million Republican voters in the 2020 election where Trump easily won Florida. This was in part due to the ongoing pandemic, as Democrats strongly urged voters to change their ways nationwide.

“We cannot catch up. The Trump campaign spent $ 10 million. Can’t cut the lead, ”Gruters wrote to Ingoglia, who had been president of the Florida Republican Party before Gruters.

Gruters (R-Sarasota) also said it would hurt the GOP in non-partisan races, noting that “our school board member got killed” during a local race. Gruters introduced a bill this week that would ask voters to make school board races partisan.

The final electoral bill did not include the Senate’s proposal to quash all demands. Instead, lawmakers voted for the grandfather in existing demands. But despite protests from Democrats, Republican lawmakers have further reduced the validity of requests from two election cycles to one.

When asked about his text messages, Gruters said that “what I said in my text message was correct. I think the failure of the reset will have a negative impact in the future. “

The emails and texts obtained by POLITICO were handed over in an ongoing lawsuit by several groups – including the League of Women Voters of Florida – challenging the newly enacted law that places new restrictions on the collection of ballots. postal voting and the use of drop boxes. Groups argue that the new law illegally targets elderly and disabled voters, as well as minority voters. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee are helping to defend the measure.

Groups challenging the law have called for the cases to be turned over as part of their preparation for trial. POLITICO has requested copies of all documents submitted by the House, Senate and the Governor’s office. These documents included bills that are generally protected from disclosure.

The files included multiple emails between Ingoglia and Ben Gibson, an attorney with Shutts and Bowen who served as chief counsel for the Florida Republican Party for the past two election cycles. Gibson, a DeSantis ally the governor appointed to the State Board of Education, has also represented national Republicans in election-related lawsuits, including one challenging the new law.

Gibson recommended several provisions that ended up in the final legislation, although any ideas he shared with Ingoglia were not included, such as one that would have given additional power to the Florida Secretary of State to investigate. local election supervisors. At one point, he provided long side-by-side bills from the House and Senate that recommended which provisions should be kept and which should be scrapped. Ingoglia downplayed her communications with Gibson.

In a text message to POLITICO, Ingoglia said: “I had an open door policy and I listened to everyone. Some ideas that we have taken, and many have been rejected. The legislator drafted this bill. Any suggestion to the contrary is not correct. In the end, I am proud of what the Florida legislature has passed.

Ingoglia also swept back and forth with Gruters. He said it was “very clear from the start” that allowing postal ballot requests to remain valid for two election cycles “was too long”.

“I was registered for this long before I received any text message,” Ingoglia said. “It was a political decision from the start and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”

Democrats who have sharply criticized the election legislation said they were not surprised it was drafted with the help of a prominent Republican lawyer.

“Unfortunately, I’m not shocked,” said State Representative Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach). “Democracy is just a game for some.”

Democrats also made sure to also consult with outside groups during debate on the bill. During the session, Senate Democrats held a caucus meeting in which a lobbyist and consultant representing civil rights groups encouraged Democrats to ask questions that could be used in a possible trial.

State Senator Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) said if lawmakers wanted to improve the Florida election, they would have relied more on local supervisors.

“If it was really about democracy and the integrity of the elections, we would follow expert advice,” Taddeo said. “It clearly shows that it was partisan – where they colluded to undermine democracy. “