Florida’s Voting System Ain’t Broke, So Why Are Some Politicians Trying to Fix It?

Everyone from Donald Trump to Ron DeSantis acknowledges that Florida’s 2020 election was well-handled, and Republicans did well up and down the ballot. So why have Republicans in Tallahassee put up a series of bills that will make it much harder for people to vote by mail, end the use of drop-boxes, threaten to close our neighborhood polling places, and make it a crime to give water to a voter on line?

Two reasons:

First, because in 2020 almost 900,000 more Democrats voted by mail than did Republicans. Most of those voters signed up for vote-by-mail in 2020, so under current law, they’ll automatically be receiving vote-by-mail ballots in 2022. And since Governor DeSantis won his race by less than 35,000 votes, eliminating the Democratic vote-by-mail advantage heading into the Governor’s re-election campaign has become a priority.

Second, Florida Republican Party chair, Senator Joe Gruters, also leads the Republicans nation-wide voter-suppression task force and is practicing in Florida what he preaches across the country: Maintain the power of the ever-shrinking Republican minority by reducing access to the vote in targeted communities.

What specifically are they trying to do?

Republicans in Tallahassee have introduced four different bills as part of their voter suppression push. The way things look now, their leadership will be picking the provisions of each they like best and putting them into one large bill which they will then quickly rush through the system.

The worst of them is SB 90, such a blatant effort to destroy the vote-by-mail system that even its sponsors haven’t been able to articulate a plausible need for it. It is opposed by all of the state’s 67 supervisors of election, most of whom are Republicans, and the editorial boards of every major news outlet. SB 90 will:

· Wipe out all of the millions of vote-by-mail requests currently on file

· Force every voter who had a request on file to file another one

· Limit new vote-by-mail requests to one general election (half the length of current requests)

· Eliminate entirely the safe, secure, ballot drop boxes used without incident by more than 1.5 million Floridians in 2020

· Make it a serious crime for anyone but a member of a voter’s immediate family to take their vote-by-mail ballot to the mailbox (so no friends, neighbors, or caregivers can help)

Because there is no funding for it in the bill, county taxpayers will have to bear the multi-million-dollar cost of complying with these changes and letting voters know about them.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol…

On the House side, Blaise Ingoglia, a Trumpist from Hernando County, introduced HB 7041, a series of election-related measures considerably more subtle than SB 90 but nevertheless centered on making it harder to vote and easier for Republicans to gum up the election machinery. Among other problems, HB 7041 would:

· Require voters to file a new request for a vote-by-mail ballot for every general election, instead of every four years

· Make it a serious crime to possess or even request a vote-by-mail ballot for another person or offer to bring it to a drop box, unless the person is an immediate family member or someone you live with.

· Allow politicians and ordinary voters access to see every incoming vote-by-mail return envelope and provisional ballot cure affidavit and challenge every signature without any reason or limitation, potentially slowing ballot counting to a crawl

· Just like in Georgia, make it illegal to provide food and drink to voters in long lines at the polls.

What else is of real concern?

SB 774 and HB 635, authorize supervisors of election to build “super voting sites” like those used in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. Any voter from anywhere in the county could vote at any one of them, from the start of early voting straight on through election day. That’s an attractive idea, but the bills are a trojan horse, packed with dangerous provisions.

These not-so-super voting sites will replace, not add on to, early voting sites, and unlike early voting sites, there is no minimum number of super voting sites, or vote-by-mail drop boxes, required.

And the bills expressly contemplate locating super voting sites such that during the weeks of early voting, they do not provide equal access to all voters in the county. All a county needs to do to make up for the weeks of unequal access is to add additional sites for two days (election day and the day before) “as needed to ensure equal and balanced geographic access for voters in other areas of the county.”

The worst of it, however, particularly for counties with large cities and concentrations of zero-vehicle households, lies in the ability of a county supervisor with even a single super voting site to close, permanently, as many election day precinct polling places as they’d like. The opportunities to suppress the votes of targeted communities are boundless.

At first glance, SB 656 looks like a laundry list of minor technical election law fixes. Regrettably, many of them are designed to reinvigorate of old-fashioned voter suppression tactics. SB 656 would:

· Make available to the public the private information about a prior felony given to the elections department by someone applying to register to vote

· Allow poll workers to challenge a voter’s address or make the voter recite it, even though the address is correct on the lawful ID the voter presents

· Allow political parties to bring lawyers from anywhere in the state to act as poll watchers far from their own communities (whereas today, only voters in a county may serve as poll watchers in that county)

· Prevent counties and municipalities from enforcing their existing laws or creating any new ones which limit dark money, corporate expenditures or any other contributions to political committees, electioneering committees or so-called “independent” expenditures

Is there a discriminatory element to all of this?

The focus on undoing vote-by-mail will clearly have a disparate and unfortunate impact on the elderly and voters with disabilities, but there is more. Using drop boxes to return vote by mail ballots played a significant role in overcoming historically well-justified fears, particularly in many of Florida’s Black communities, of the ability of the postal service to get the ballots in on time. And drop boxes also made it feasible for voters working in the service industries and others in underserved communities to quickly ensure that their ballots were cast without taking substantial time off of work or other obligations.

There is an even greater risk of suppressing Black votes in the threat that the presence of suburban “super voting sites” could serve as legal cover and pretext for shutting down neighborhood polling places, which are in walking distance for many urban voters. Countless combinations of super voting locations and precinct closings have the potential to suppress Black votes in numbers large enough to change or guarantee outcomes up and down the ticket in 2022.

What can be done?

We have seen that voices raised to protest these assaults on our voting rights can have an effect, encouraging their sponsors to eliminate or throttle back the worst of them. But we have to speak up.

Contact your local Republican elected officials (you can find them here.) and tell them to vote no on anything that makes it more difficult to vote, whether it’s SB 90, SB 774/HB 635, SB 656 or some Frankenstein amalgam of them all. Tell them you care, you’ll be watching, and you vote. Then share this post with your friends and networks and ask them to do the same.

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