TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida was a model citizen in the 2020 election. The state showed its years of electoral reform. Even as Donald Trump denounced voting systems elsewhere, he praised Florida and urged his supporters to trust his postal voting system. And, indeed, the results were reported quickly and accurately. The participation rate has skyrocketed.
Everything was overseen by GOP officials. And Trump won, continuing the growing Republican dominance in the state.
Yet three months later, the Florida Republicans decided to overhaul the state’s electoral system anyway. GOP Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a series of voting changes on Friday, while state lawmakers introduced legislation that makes postal voting more difficult. To explain the efforts, Florida Republicans are not pointing to evidence of problems, but the potential for voter fraud and suspicion about the process. “We want everyone to vote, but we don’t want anyone to cheat,” DeSantis said Friday.
The Florida Republicans ‘drive to change election laws shows how deeply misrepresented Trump-propagated mass electoral fraud has gotten into the Republicans’ belief system. The party is now rushing to solve a problem which, according to most non-partisan experts and the courts, does not exist. Their efforts threaten to dismantle years of bipartisan measures to boost voting in several states, including places where the GOP has thrived under the current system.
And that would make voting more difficult.
“We can’t understand where they’re coming from,” said Anjenys Gonzalez-Eilert of Florida Common Cause, noting that the GOP has long been a supporter and beneficiary of postal voting in the state.
Similar efforts are being repeated across the country. Republican lawmakers in the states of Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania have introduced voting bills, many of which seek to curtail postal voting.
The legislation reflects the widespread belief among Republicans that new rules facilitating postal voting during the pandemic have greatly benefited Democrats and caused “irregularities.” While there have been no signs of widespread irregularities, they often point to the vote totals tilted in favor of Democrat Joe Biden, as the mail-in ballots were counted days after election day – a pattern that was new to many states but not a sign of fraud.
But that was not a problem in Florida. It has long allowed its polling stations to begin the laborious process of preparing postal ballots for the count – removing them from their envelopes and verifying voters’ signatures well in advance of election day. While the ballot count in many states new to mail-order voting went on for days, Florida’s tally was fast and efficient.
There was no evidence of fraud in Florida. Of the roughly 50 lawsuits Trump and his allies have filed to challenge the election, none have been filed in Florida. (Even in states where Trump has claimed fraud and attempted to overturn the election, dozens of courts have rejected his legal claims, and no significant cases have been proven.)
Florida officials are proud of their recent record. Since the tragedy of the 2000 presidential recount – when ‘suspended chads’ turned the state into a national joke – the state has struggled to shed its image as a model for elections gone awry. .
Election officers worked to build confidence in the state’s electoral system – by changing the way ballots are designed, modernizing vote-counting equipment, and investing millions of dollars to protect against cyber threats.
Even DeSantis took credit for the November performance. “We did it right,” he told supporters in West Palm Beach on Friday.
Yet he pleaded for tighter election laws. His proposal includes restricting the use of drop boxes where voters can mail ballots and preventing others from casting voters’ ballots, a practice many refer to as “collecting. of ballot papers ”. DeSantis also appeared to endorse the Republican bill that would make postal voting more difficult by requiring voters to request one postal vote each year, rather than allowing them to make a single request valid for two years of elections.
The proposal is remarkable because for years Republicans dominated postal voting in Florida, and it was adopted by the state’s many older voters. This helped the GOP consolidate a lasting majority and narrowly win statewide races.
But the Florida Republicans lost that advantage last year. Trump has spoken out against postal voting and GOP voters’ confidence in the system has sagged, polls show. In Florida, his complaints alarmed Republicans across the state, and Trump sent out tweets saying that in Florida, where he voted by mail, the system was “safe and secure, tried and true.”
In the end, Democrats in the state edged Republicans by mail for the first time in years, with a record 4.9 million Floridians voting by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more ballots than Republicans.
The new bill would essentially wipe these new Democratic voters off the lists before 2022, when DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio lead the list of Republicans in place for re-election. “The Republicans had the advantage, and now the Democrats have the advantage. So now it’s time to make a change, ”said campaign strategist Mac Stipanovich, a former Republican.
“There is no doubt that these are voter suppression efforts,” Stipanovich said, adding that the tactic in Florida could make postal voting more difficult for people who are poor, less educated and have little experience. of the vote.
Republicans pushed for a similar change in Arizona, another state where GOP lawmakers helped create a bipartisan and popular system, but are now in the process of changing it. Their effort took a heavy blow this week when the Arizona Senate voted against a bill to purge approximately 200,000 people from the state’s absentee voters list. A Republican senator joined the 14 Democrats to kill the measure in a 15-15 draw.
In Georgia, a former red state that Democrats narrowly won in November, and then in two Senate polls in January, lawmakers held a heated hearing on Republican proposals to cut mail-in voting and eliminate voting in January. no one early on Sundays, while black churches often send parishioners to the polls.
In Florida, State Senator Dennis Baxley, the author of the bill, says he’s not trying to get a partisan advantage, but just wants to reverse a 2007 measure that created the two-year window . Notably, Baxley was the legislator who helped enact this measure. He now says he doesn’t remember his reasoning back then. “A lot has happened in 13 years,” he says. “I just think it’s time for a reset.”
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