Florida lawmakers still at odds on contentious voting bill

House Republicans released their latest version of the bill at 1:33 a.m. on Tuesday.
Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia debates an amendment during a legislative session, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Florida Rep. Blaise Ingoglia debates an amendment during a legislative session, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the Capitol in Tallahassee. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published April 28, 2021|Updated April 28, 2021

TALLAHASSEE — With two full days left in Florida’s two-month legislative session, Republican lawmakers are still in disagreement over a contentious voting bill opposed by Democrats and elections supervisors.

The Florida House on Wednesday voted along party lines for its version, which would require Floridians to present ID when leaving a vote by mail ballot in a drop box, a move that elections supervisors have warned would lead to long lines.

The 77-40 vote followed hours of heated debate and accusations by Democrats that Republicans were trying to prevent people from voting.

The House bill is now going back to the Florida Senate. To become law, both chambers must pass the same bill before the end of the legislative session, scheduled on Friday.

Republicans have steadily watered down both versions of the bill, but the current House version of the bill, released at 1:33 a.m. Tuesday, includes some key provisions that aren’t in the Senate version:

  • Anyone using a ballot drop box would have to show an ID when dropping off a ballot
  • When a member of a county or municipal elected body resigns to run for another office, the governor would appoint the replacement instead of voters choosing one in a special election
  • It no longer blocks no-party affiliated candidates from jumping late into a race, a prohibition that had been a remedial response to the use of no-party candidates to sway the outcome of races, a practice that led to the recent arrest of a former Republican senator

The Florida Supervisors of Elections, a nonpartisan group representing the top elections officials in the state’s 67 counties, has come out against both chambers’ proposals, arguing that the changes could lead to long lines and administrative headaches for their employees.

Republican legislatures across the country are proposing tightening vote-by-mail laws, after former President Donald Trump alleged unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud among voting by mail.

When the pandemic threatened to keep people away from in-person voting last year, Democrats shifted their strategy to encourage voting by mail and submitted 680,000 more vote by mail ballots than Republicans last year.

On Tuesday, the House bill sponsor, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, said Republicans have seen polling showing support on the measures they’re proposing.

“Your constituents are saying, ‘We want this bill,’” Ingoglia said.

The bill would prohibit people from possessing more than two ballots per election cycle, an effort, they said, to prevent “ballot harvesting,” when candidates or others collect large numbers of mail ballots to drop off. Ballot harvesting has been at the source of numerous vote-by-mail scandals since the 1990s.

Considering that Florida’s November election was held up as a widespread success, even among officials like Gov. Ron DeSantis, Democrats said Republicans are just trying to make it harder to vote.

“This bill is the revival of Jim Crow in this state,” said Rep. Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach. “Whether the sponsors admit it or not, that’s what it is.”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times Florida Legislature coverage

Get updates via text message: ConText, our free text messaging service about politics news, brings you the latest from this year's Florida legislative session.

Sign up for our newsletter: Get Capitol Buzz, a special bonus edition of The Buzz with Steve Contorno, each Saturday while the Legislature is meeting.

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news from the state’s legislative session. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.