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Florida legislature approves controversial voting restrictions

Voters Prepare to Mail In their Ballots October 6, 2020 to the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Florida | AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Republican-led legislature – in a bid to address unsubstantiated complaints about voter fraud following the 2020 presidential election – on Thursday passed new voting restrictions and placed limits on how whose local officials organize the elections.

The bill is now heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign the bill ahead of what could be an expensive and hotly contested 2022 re-election campaign.

While lawmakers have removed many of the tightest restrictions after weeks of fierce debate, the House and Senate have still approved the bill (SB 90) largely along party lines. Democrats called the measure unnecessary and said it was more about responding to the “big lie” of electoral fraud pushed by former President Donald Trump and countering the Democrats’ advantage in the ballots. postal vote.

“There is no reason we should be dissuading people from voting and making it much more difficult,” said Senator Audrey Gibson, Democrat of Jacksonville. “It’s still a suppression bill.”

Representative Geraldine Thompson, a black Democrat from Windermere, called the move a modern-day effort to place further restrictions on minority voters.

“People like me got relegated to the back of the bus and you want me to sit here and accept it,” Thompson said.

Republicans countered that voters in Florida still have many more opportunities to vote than even in other Democratic-led states. They argued the changes would put in “guard rails” so that problems elsewhere in 2020 do not manifest in the Sunshine State.

“We had a great election, but why should we stop there?” said Senator Travis Hutson, a Republican from St. Augustine.

State Senator Joe Gruters, who is also chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said GOP lawmakers were trying to make “the vote as easy as possible and as hard to cheat”.

“It does nothing to suppress the vote, it does not restrict the vote,” he said earlier this week.

The bill is not as restrictive as the measure approved in Georgia, which has been widely condemned by business leaders, Democrats and sports organizations.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Florida has seen an increase in the number of mail-in ballots and nearly 44% of those who voted in the 2020 presidential election did not vote in person. About 1.5 million of those mail-in ballots were placed in drop boxes, allowing voters to bypass the postal service and deliver them directly to election officials.

The Florida election went relatively well, and DeSantis himself boasted that the state had finally “defeated the ghost” of the 2000 presidential recount that subjected the state to international ridicule. But then the governor, at the end of February, called for many of the changes outlined in the bill heading for his office.

One of the most significant changes in the bill would place a limit of two ballots on the number of ballots a person could collect and deliver on behalf of elderly or sick and disabled voters. There is an exception for immediate family members, but some Democrats predicted that this would lead older voters to be less able to participate.

The bill would place new restrictions on when drop boxes could be used and would prohibit outside groups from making grants to help local and national election officials administer elections. This was done in response to a Chicago-based nonprofit that handed out millions in aid ahead of the 2020 election. Most of this nonprofit’s money came from the co-founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

At one point, the bill had a blanket ban on giving food and water to voters who were within 150 feet of a polling station or drop box, but lawmakers amended to prohibit anyone from trying to influence a voter in that area.

Leon County Election Supervisor Mark Earley admitted the final bill had “no show stoppers” unlike previous incarnations which had proposed eliminating drop boxes or canceling all requests to vote by current mail already on file. But Earley was annoyed that the measure subject state local election officials to heavy fines if they broke some of the new drop box rules.

“We still see the civil fine of $ 25,000 as an insult to a group that had the best election in the country under extremely difficult circumstances,” Earley said in a text message. “Thanks for the slap in the face.”

Florida Republicans have used postal voting for years to maintain their grip on state government. But amid Trump’s continued attacks on mail-in voting and the pandemic, Democrats have amassed a substantial advantage in mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election. More than 2.18 million Democrats used mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election. postal ballots against 1.5 million Republican voters.

Another provision in the bill that has drawn the contempt of Democrats removes an exclusion in current state law that requires an election if someone resigns from office to run for another elected office. Democrats called it a “takeover” which they said would give DeSantis the power to fill the positions of two Broward County commissioners who are supposed to seek the congressional seat held by the late Rep. Alcee Hastings. Hastings passed away earlier this month.

The legislation included a nod to Democrats: it would ban anyone from running as an independent candidate unless they had been registered as an independent for a full year before qualifying for the ballot. Senate Democrats pushed for change following a Miami-Dade County criminal investigation into a scheme where a mock candidate ran in a state Senate race to siphon off votes of a Democratic candidate.

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