TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature approved along party lines a multitude of changes to the state’s elections laws Thursday night, including a ban on possessing multiple vote by mail ballots and restrictions on the use of ballot drop boxes.
Relenting on a number of ideas that were strongly opposed by county elections supervisors and Democrats, the bill now heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk is far less onerous than what Republicans were proposing over the last month.
The bill does not ban drop boxes, an idea DeSantis endorsed earlier this year.
It does not require someone show an I.D. when leaving a vote by mail ballot in a drop box, which elections supervisors warned would have created long lines.
It 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.
It does 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. Possessing more than two ballots is already outlawed in Miami-Dade County, a response to a series of scandals involving people illegally obtaining ballots and pressuring voters.
Senate Bill 90 also would require ballot drop boxes to be used only during early voting hours, and must be manned during those times. The 150-foot ban on soliciting voters at polling sites would also apply to drop box locations.
The result, Republican lawmakers said, is a bill that strengthens the state’s security system while satisfying most of the objections of elections supervisors.
“I’m trying to protect the sanctity of our elections,” said Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton.
While more amenable than previous versions, Democratic lawmakers noted the changes were only coming after Florida Democrats cast 680,000 more votes by mail than Republicans — and after former President Donald Trump alleged widespread fraud in the election. Republicans in legislatures across the country are enacting similar measures.
“We can’t help be cynical,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said.
The vote passed the Senate 23-17, and in the House of Representatives 77-40.
Democrats in the House objected to having just an hour to ask questions and debate the bill Thursday night.
“I’m completely offended at this body,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, a former deputy supervisor of elections. “Do not pat yourselves on the back and think you have accomplished something today.”
Under the bill, Floridians would have to give their driver’s license number, state-issued ID number or the last four of their Social Security number to request a vote by mail ballot or make changes to their voter status.
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Most of the bill makes dozens of technical and administrative changes to the state’s vote-by-mail laws. 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. That’s the process where supervisors duplicate ballots that are wet, wrinkled or otherwise too damaged to run through voting machines.
They would also be prevented from changing the locations of drop boxes within 30 days of an election.
Voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, quickly denounced the bill.
“The League believes the bill’s sweeping changes will undoubtedly make it harder for Floridians to cast their ballot,” league President Patti Brigham said in a statement.
Democrats have argued that Republicans were trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. The only case of voter fraud in Florida last year was the arrest of a former Republican senator accused of recruiting and paying a no-party candidate in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race to siphon votes away from the Democratic candidate.
The bill does address that issue. It would require candidates with no party affiliation to attest they’ve been a member of that party for a year before the qualifying date of the race.
One provision in the bill is unrelated to fraud.
Another provision requires the governor to appoint the replacement of 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.
Republican lawmakers said the language was meant to simplify state law in scenarios where people resign. If someone resigns from office for other reasons, for example, the governor appoints the replacement.
Sen. Shevrin “Shev” Jones, D-West Park, said the move a “power grab” by DeSantis that appeared to target candidates running to replace U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died earlier this month. Two Broward County Commissioners, including county Mayor Dale Holness, have announced they’re running for the seat.
“(This is) just another brazen effort to transfer power from local voters to the leadership here in Tallahassee,” Jones said.
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Tampa Bay Times Florida Legislature coverage
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