The Florida Legislature approved changes to the state’s elections laws last week, along with a surprise measure that will expand the governor's powers.
Florida's bill was originally compared to the Georgia legislation that was roundly criticized nationwide, resulting in boycott threats and causing Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
In the end, Florida lawmakers abandoned a number of elements that were strongly opposed by county elections supervisors and Democrats. The bill expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis is not as troubling as what Republicans initially proposed, but still creates obstacles to voting.
The bill does not ban drop boxes, but limits them to early voting and prohibits elections supervisors from changing drop box locations within 30 days of an election. The 150-foot ban on soliciting voters at polling sites would now apply to drop box locations. Identification will not be required to put a vote-by-mail ballot in a drop box.
The bill also does not include the strict signature comparison requirements for validating vote-by-mail ballots that some feared would require millions of Floridians to update their signatures with their county elections office.
The bill does, however, restrict people from possessing more than two vote-by-mail ballots, reimposing a ban on ballot collection that Republicans did away with 20 years ago. This does not change anything in Miami-Dade County, which already outlaws the possession of more than two ballots in response to a series of previous voting scandals.
Floridians will have to give their driver’s license number, state issued ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number to request a vote-by-mail ballot or make changes to their voter status.
Elections supervisors would be given more time to count vote-by-mail ballots and be required to regularly report online the number of ballots submitted and counted. They would also have to allow candidates’ observers to closely watch, and easily dispute, the duplicate ballot process, when supervisors duplicate ballots that are wet, wrinkled or otherwise too damaged to run through voting machines.
Democrats have argued that Republicans were trying to fix a problem in their own minds. The only case of voter fraud in Florida last year was the arrest of former Republican Senator Frank Artiles, accused of recruiting and paying a no-party candidate in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race to pull votes away from the Democratic candidate who ultimately lost reelection as a result.
That issue is not addressed in the bill, and one provision is completely unrelated to Republican's concerns about voter fraud. It requires the governor to appoint the replacement of a member of a county or municipal elected body who resigns to run for another office. The governor would appoint the replacement instead of voters choosing one in a special election.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, called the move a “power grab” by DeSantis that appeared to target candidates running to replace U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died in April. Two Black Democrats on the Broward County Commission have announced their intention to run for the seat. Under the new law, DeSantis would appoint their replacements, presumably with Republicans who may not be Black.